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News - Joe Nichols named 2010 Kentucky Farmer of the Year

  • June 15, 2010

Joe Nichols, a Trigg County native operating his 19,242-acre farm in Cadiz, was named the 2010 Farmer of the Year by Kentucky Farm Bureau. Arnold O’Reilly of Hardinsburg and Billy Adams of Summer Shade were the other finalists also considered for this annual award.

Kentucky Farm Bureau initiated the Farmer of the Year awards program in 2006 as a way to recognize farmers for their commitment to excellence in agriculture and their efficiency in farming practices, sound financial management and leadership in civic organizations.

Nichols’ farming operation, which has been featured in Progressive Farming and Top Producer magazines, started from rather humble beginnings. When his parents sold the family farm and moved 350 miles away in 1983, Nichols, who had just graduated from high school, stayed behind and began working in the local John Deere dealership for a steady source of income while he started farming on his own. Through several years of hard work as a mechanic, owning his own equipment repair business and eventually becoming general manager of the dealership, Nichols learned the hands-on management skills needed to own and operate a large-scale farming operation. By the year 2000, this high school-educated entrepreneur was already farming 2,000 acres of land, but just 10 years later he now works more than 19,000 acres.

“I built the operation from scratch to what I would hope and strive to be one of the best, well-managed operations in North America,” said Nichols. “I started farming full-time in January of 2000 after a massive drought in 1999, but with no crop insurance. I figured if I could survive that, I could survive.”

“Survive” is an understatement for those who visit the farm that he and his wife of 20 years, KaDonna, manage. Of the 19,200 acres worked by the Nichols family, their major crops include 7,400 acres of soybeans, 3,950 acres of wheat, 3,950 acres of yellow corn, 3,100 acres of white corn, and 71 acres of dark fired tobacco. Nichols’ operation, Seven Spring Farms, also has 1.9 million bushels of grain storage capacity and the functionality to dry up to 5,000 bushels of 25% moisture corn per hour – all of which equates to their ability to store 100% of their yield each year.

Continuing his entrepreneurial spirit, Nichols hasn’t limited his business know-how to traditional farming. He ran a 200-head commercial cattle operation until May 2009, and currently contracts out custom planting and harvesting for local farmers, operates a grain and rock hauling service, sells crop insurance, and recently started a construction business focusing on land clearing and dirt removal. As a whole, Nichols’ operations have a total of 35 full-time employees, including an accountant who also acts as the office manager, an agronomist to focus on the land’s crop production, and a computer manager to coordinate the technical efforts behind evenly planting and fertilizing the acreage via global position system (GPS).

Nichols attributes much of the recent growth and success of his business to Michael Oliver, Nichols’ operational partner since 2008.

“Without his loyalty and help, my days would not be bearable,” said Nichols.

No stranger to awards, Nichols is a five-time winner of the National Corn Grower’s Association National Yield award, and was the 2008 first runner-up for the Top Producer of the Year. In an effort to give back to the community around him, Nichols has also engaged in civic involvement at a degree that rivals his business success. He is a member of the Cadiz/Trigg County Rotary Club, Trigg County Leadership Program, Farm Credit Services of Mid-America Advisory Council, Kentucky Soybean Association and sponsor of the Ducks Unlimited Banquet.

The Nichols have two daughters, Heather, a sophomore at Western Kentucky University majoring in agricultural business, and Jillian, who will soon be attending the University of Kentucky. In addition to attending college, his daughters are in the process of learning the family business and being brought into the daily operations.

As the state winner, Nichols receives $1,000 cash from Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation and $2,500 from Swisher International. He will also represent Kentucky in the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest, the South’s most prestigious agricultural award. The overall winner is announced on October 18 at a dinner at the Rainwater Conference Center in Valdosta, Georgia, during the Sunbelt Expo. Nichols will have a chance to win the $15,000 cash award from Swisher International and several other sponsor-based prizes that are bestowed upon the overall winner.

The Southeastern Farmer of the Year program was started in 1990 by Swisher International and the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition. Since the inception of this regional honor, nearly $750,000 has been awarded to state and overall winners. Ten southeastern states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia – participate in this regional awards program. Kentucky Farm Bureau administers and promotes the awards program for Kentucky.

Previous state winners from Kentucky include: Doug Langley, Shelby County – 2009; Loretta Baxter Lyons, Monroe County – 2008; Scott Travis, Spencer County – 2007; Sam Moore, Butler County – 2006.

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