In the fall of 1977, Brooks Aycock III left college and returned to assist his dad in the family’s successful farm operation near Belzoni, Miss.

His role on the farm changed quickly in November of that year when his father died suddenly from a heart attack. Instead of being a student with his father as the tutor, he faced the challenge of becoming the operation’s leader.

“It was certainly the biggest challenge of my life,” says Aycock. “At first, I got discouraged and had a lot of problems. A lot of our neighbors didn’t think we would make it. But my mother gave the best advice I ever had,” he continued. “It was: ‘Why don’t you just go out there and show them what you can do.’”

And Aycock has proven to be a good listener and quick learner. Twenty-nine years later, he manages a pristine operation of 2,600 acres and has been selected as the as the 2006 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for Mississippi. He was selected for the honor in judging by the Mississippi State University Extension Service and nominated by Eddie Harris.

Aycock now joins eight other Southeastern state winners as a finalist for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award for 2006, which will be announced during the Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie, Ga., in Tuesday, Oct. 17.

As the Mississippi state winner, Aycock will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International in Jacksonville, Fla., a jacket and a $200 gift certificate from the Williamson-Dickie Company, a commemorative fireproof home safe from Misty Morn Safe Co., and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States. He is also now eligible for the $14,000 that will go to the overall winner and the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award for the 17th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed more than $700,000 in cash awards and other honors since the award was initiated in 1990.

Cotton remains the backbone of Aycock’s operation, covering 2,000 acres. And the Aycock operation is one of a few farms in the Delta to employ a skip-row technique.

“We used the two-and-one skip row through 1996,” says Aycock. “In 1997, we went with a four-two-one skip row. It has worked well for us for a lot of years, and a lot of farmers in the area are switching back to it. We do it for purely economical reasons.”

In addition to cotton, there’s 100 acres of irrigated corn that yields 215 bushels per acre and 300 acres of soybeans, yielding 48 bushels per acre. Timber also covers 200 acres.

“We are still working hard to keep up my dad’s high standards and quality of products,” says Aycock. “Plus, mother still remains as the cornerstone of the operation. She has been a blessing and a real inspiration.”

Brooks and his wife Tangea have two grown sons. Brooks (Brookie) Aycock, IV, and Shelton Aycock are both partners in Shelbrook Farms. Brookie is a graduate of Delta State University while Shelton is a rising senior at Mississippi State University.

Previous state winners from Mississippi include: Hugh Arant Sr. of Ruleville, 1990; Bill Hawks of Hernando, 1991; Kenneth Hood of Gunnison, 1992; James (Tol) Thomas of Cruger, 1993; Rick Parson of Vance, 1994; Ed Hester of Benoit, 1995; Bill Harris of Benton, 1996; Robert Miller of Greenwood, 1997; Ted Kendell III of Bolton, 1998; Wayne Bush of Schlater, 1999; William Tackett of Schlater, 2000; Willard Jack of Belzoni, 2001; Hugh Arant, Jr. of Ruleville, 2002; Rick Parsons of Vance, 2003; Sledge Taylor III of Como, 2004; and Laurance Carter of Rolling Fork, 2005.

Kenneth Hood of Gunnison was selected as the Southeastern Farmer of the Year in 1992 as was Ed Hester of Benoit in 1995. Willard Jack of Belzoni gave Mississippi three Southeastern Farmers of the Year in 2001.