Halifax County farmer named Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year
Mike McDowell of Halifax County was honored with the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for 2019 on Oct. 15 during the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Georgia.
He was selected from a field of 10 state-level finalists. The award recognizes excellence in agricultural production and farm management, along with leadership in farm and community organizations. It also honors family contributions in producing safe and abundant supplies of food, fiber and shelter products.
“I had no idea I was going to win,” McDowell said. “I’m shocked and honored to have won, especially when all the other state winners are such a great group of farmers.”
McDowell is a fourth-generation farmer who grows hay and alfalfa and raises award-winning registered Angus cattle on Locust Level Farm.
“We are very excited to have another top winner representing Virginia,” said Wayne F. Pryor, president of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Mike’s innovative farming practices and forward-thinking conservation efforts are a true testament to his commitment to the agriculture industry.”
At the age of 16, McDowell began to farm 3 acres on his own under a sharecropping arrangement with his father. That experience helped him pay college tuition at Virginia Tech, where he earned degrees in animal science and agronomy.
The family farm historically grew tobacco and row crops, but McDowell saw tobacco quota cuts approaching and decided to diversify with an Angus seedstock operation. He also implemented conservation improvements, including cover crops and minimized tillage. Today the farm has 95 percent of the land in no-till or sod. It also boasts 120 head of purebred Angus cows, 50 head of purebred heifers and 70 head of purebred sale bulls.
McDowell has embraced new techniques for producing purebreds such as genetic selection, ultrasonic evaluation for yearling bulls and heifers, evaluation of genomic rankings and embryo transfer programs.
He has been Virginia Seedstock Producer of the Year twice and was named 2019 Farmer of the Year by Virginia Cooperative Extension. He currently serves as director of the Halifax County Cattlemen’s Association and previously served on the Halifax County Farm Bureau board of directors.
McDowell received a $15,000 cash award plus $2,500 as a state winner from Swisher International. He also received the use of a Massey Ferguson product for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, a $500 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI, and a Henry “American Farmer” Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation.