Georgia peach grower Robert Dickey III and Florida vegetable grower Charles Obern have been named 2019 Farmers of the Year by Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo.
They and eight other growers of non-produce crops, each representing a southeastern state, will be eligible for the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award, bestowed during the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moutltrie. Ga., in mid-October.
Obern is owner of C&B Farms Inc., Clewiston, Fla., growing more than 30 conventional and organic vegetables and herbs on 1,500 acres, according to a Sunbelt news release.
He began farming in 1986, on just 10 acres near Immokalee, Fla., which grew into his current operation. The company branched into organics in 2006.
C&C Farms grows everything from cilantro to radishes, green beans and cabbage.
“We market our farm as a diverse producer, branding our products and custom growing and packing them based on the individual customer’s needs and requests,” Obern said in the release.
Obern’s interest in sustainability has led to working with researchers on numerous projects and he’s invested in experimental trials, ranging from mildew resistant basil to methyl bromide alternatives. He has also established natural shelters that have attracted a diversity of birds and beneficial insects, according to the release.
The farm uses technology, including computer software to map plantings and traceability programs to track inventories and shipping.
Obern is active in numerous agriculture and specialty crop organizations.
“Working in an industry I love with like-minded people: farmers, buyers, university researchers, and consultants,” he said in the release. “We speak the same language, have the same interests, and pursue the same types of goals. We’re always reaching into the future to hopefully make it a better one.”
Robert Dickey III
Dickey grew up on the family peach farm, Dickey Farms, Musella, Ga., returning with a business degree from college in the late 1970s.
Dickey Farms, which was founded in 1897, has more than a few changes that Robert Dickey initiated that’s helped it flourish.
He was able to generate additional income by maximizing the packinghouse, packing fruit for other growers in the area, according to a Sunbelt release. Around the time he graduated college, the company was packing about 75,000 half-bushel boxes of peaches. This year, Robert Dickey said they expect to pack about 400,000 half-bushel boxes.
Dickey Farms harvests and packs from early May to August from about 900 acres, selling primarily to the Genuine Georgia Group, a sales and marketing company.
In recent years, Dickey Farms has entered into the agro-tourism business, and also has a mail order business and website with “booming” online sales, Robert Dickey said in the release.
It's very much a family business. His father, Bob Dickey, 91, is still involved in the farm, and his son, Lee Dickey, is in charge of food safety and planting new trees and other crops. Lee Dickey’s wife Stacy helps in sales and marketing, social media, employee training and advertising, according to the release. Robert Dickey’s wife Cynde is the chief financial officer who started the retail and mail order business.
The company has added cold room space, remodeled the packing line and installed an Autoline sizer. Robert Dickey plans to expand strawberry and vegetable production for the farm’s retail operation and participate in farm-to-school programs locally.