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• As a result of his success as crop and cattle producer, Vickers has been selected as the 2011 Georgia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
Planted first blueberries in 2007
“I wish I had planted them 10 years ago,” he recalls, “but I didn’t plant my first blueberries until 2007.”
He harvests early maturing highbush blueberries by hand and later maturing rabbiteye blueberries by machine. Under ideal conditions, blueberries should produce 10,000 pounds per acre. He markets his blueberries as a member of the Michigan Blueberry Association cooperative.
Within the next two years, he hopes to build a packing facility to save on what he spends to have the blueberries packed by others.
Vickers says poor pollination hurt his blueberry and his early watermelon crops this year. And drought hit all of his crops earlier this year. “That forced me to pump irrigation water day and night,” he says.
All of his corn and 98 percent of his tobacco is irrigated, as is 50 percent of his cotton and peanuts. He irrigates blueberries with drip irrigation, and he can use overhead irrigation during late winter to protect blueberries from frost.
His 400 acres of flue cured tobacco is up considerably from the 135 acres he grew in 1999. Back then, quota cuts limited the amount of tobacco he could grow.
Now, without the production restraints of the quota system, Vickers is able to contract tobacco with three companies that buy his leaf crop. These companies include U.S. Tobacco Cooperative (formerly known as Stabilization), U.S. Growers Direct and Alliance One.
His latest tobacco innovation is a labor saving cleaning and baling system. In this system, cured tobacco is hauled in boxes to a central location where it is cleaned, graded and baled, while newly harvested green or uncured tobacco is put into the empty boxes and hauled to the curing barns.
Vickers was born into a long-time farming family. His dad collected turpentine from pine trees. For many years, the farm relied on hogs to pay bills. “We didn’t have to wonder what we would be doing on Mondays because we knew we would be hauling hogs to market that day,” he recalls.
His first farm job as a five-year-old was driving a tobacco harvester. He says, “I could drive it, but couldn’t turn it around. It was a two-story stack harvester. Then, when I was seven or eight years old, feeding hogs was my main farm job.”
“I have been farming all my life with my father, grandfather and brother,” he says. “As I got older, my brother and I started farming together on our own while still helping our father. In 1994, our father retired and sold us the family farm.”
He has been active in several community and farm organizations. As chief of the East Berrien Volunteer Fire Dept., he has put in long hours fighting forest and swamp fires in nearby counties.
He has been president of the Berrien County Chamber of Commerce. He also chairs the Berrien County Tax Assessors Board where he helps set property values. “It’s a thankless job, but somebody’s got to do it,” he adds.
In addition, Vickers is a member of Riverside Baptist Church.
He has been named Agribusinessman of the Year and his family was named Farm Family of the Year by Berrien County’s Chamber of Commerce. His family was also selected as the Berrien County Farm Bureau Family of the Year.