For the third time in 10 years, a Mississippi farmer has earned the title of “Southeastern Farmer of the Year.”

As the 2001 Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year, Willard Jack of Belzoni, Miss., joins the ranks of his fellow Mississippi farmers and past award recipients Kenneth Hood of Perthshire, Miss., and Ed Hester of Benoit, Miss.

Jack, nominated for the Mississippi honor by Extension agent Eddie B. Harris, was honored as the 2001 Farmer of the Year, Oct. 16, the opening day of the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie, Ga.

“Willard Jack is just an all-around good farmer,” Harris said. “He always tries to get the most he can out of his crops by being very conscious about what he spends and using his marketing plan to consistently make a profit. He also places a lot of emphasis on conservation and irrigation.”

Jack is “an outstanding entrepreneur and innovator who has overcome adversity to build an ultra-successful farming operation,” said J. Thomas Ryan, executive vice president of Swisher International, which sponsors the award with the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition. “We are proud to welcome him into this group of 96 farmers who have been honored during the first 12 years of this award.”

Along with the recognition the award provides, Jack received a check for $12,500 from Swisher International. In addition, he was given a year's supply of Dickies clothing from the Williamson-Dickie Company, the use of a Massey Ferguson farm tractor from AGCO, Inc., a custom-crafted safe from Misty Morn Safes, and a $1,000 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative, Inc.

Jack moved to the Mississippi Delta in 1979 from Ontario, Canada. “At first, we struggled to learn production agriculture, U.S. farm programs, U.S. fiscal policy, and the culture and customs of the Mississippi Delta. But the Delta had one of the greatest potentials to put everything together,” Jack said.

“I was always interested in running an operation where I made the major decisions and where hard work and good decisions directly affected my income,” he said. “I also felt like farming gave me a chance to invest money for retirement and security in a manner over which I have control.”

In addition to managing his trucking business and truck brokerage firm, Jack farms approximately 800 acres of cotton, 900 acres of corn, 700 acres of soybeans and 200 acres of rice.

“We pride ourselves on having a very modern production system,” he said. “We have irrigation capabilities on approximately 3,000 acres with 1,250 acres precision land-formed. We also have two wells on our underground pipeline, with three risers as part of our water conservation efforts.”

Jack and his wife, Laura Lee, who manages the family's trucking business and works in the fields during harvest season, have three children, Stacie, Gregory and Jeremy.

“The children have worked hard,” Jack said. “All of them have been in the fields. We always felt it was important for our sons and daughter to understand the business.”

In addition to Jack, seven other finalists were vying for the title of “2001 Southeastern Farmer of the Year.” They are: Bert Driskell of Grand Bay, Ala.; Gene Batson of Mount Dora, Fla.; Daniel L. Johnson of Alma, Ga.; Rusty Cox of Monroe, N.C.; W.R. Simpson of Manning, S.C.; Malcolm Burchfiel of Newbern, Tenn.; and Jim Huffard of Crockett, Va.

Each of the finalists for the prestigious agricultural award received a check for $1,500 from Swisher International. They were recognized as state winners at the Sunbelt Expo.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com