You don’t farm for very long in the challenging hills of north Alabama’s Tennessee Valley unless you truly love it — and for Danny Darnell, there has never been any doubt about that love.

“I’ve always enjoyed it, and I’ve loved being around it,” says Darnell, who farms in Hillsboro, a small community just west of Decatur, Ala.

His father farmed and worked at nearby Redstone Arsenal, “back when you had to have another job to afford farming.” For a while after finishing high school, Danny got a job at a local plant, but it soon became apparent to him and wife Pat that farming was his true calling.

“Pat got so tired of me complaining that she told me to either quit the job or shut up — her exact words. So I quit working at the plant and starting farming. Since then, we’ve been very fortunate.”

But it wasn’t an easy start, Darnell says, noting that he literally started with nothing. He baled hay for the public and worked his own farm whenever there was time — whatever it took to make a living.

“Basically, we’re still doing that now, but it’s just a little better living,” he says.

His love for the land was passed on to his sons, Jared and Heath, both of whom were eager to return to the farm after finishing their educations at Auburn University.

Today, the Darnells farm about 5,500 acres, split between cotton, corn and soybeans followed by wheat. Their success with this operation has earned Danny the 2014 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Southeast Region.

See photos of Darnell's farming operation