As Daniel Johnson of Alma, Ga., puts it — “farming is all I’ve known. At nine years of age, I started picking cotton for my father and other neighbors.

“Long hot summers in the tobacco fields will make you or break you,” he says, “and I loved every minute of it. Farming has always been my way of life.”

When his father died suddenly at the age of 49, Johnson had a decision to make — either buy the farm or move on. He purchased the 171 acres and has never looked back.

Today, Johnson’s farm has grown into a 1,675-acre diversified operation and his selection as the 2007 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for Georgia. He was selected for the honor in judging conducted by the Georgia Extension Service and was nominated by James Jacobs.

Tobacco, cotton and peanuts continue to be the backbone of the operation today with 200 acres of tobacco producing 2,400 pounds per acre. There are 896 acres of cotton, yielding 820 pounds per acre.

Peanuts cover more than 429 acres with a yield of 3,820 pounds per acre. Also included are 350 acres of wheat with a yield of 50 bushels per acre and 40 acres of timber.

“I was one of the first three farmers in Pierce County to plant cotton in 1987,” says Johnson. “Plus in 2004, I was the first person in Pierce County to plant peanuts on a large scale.

“It has really been a thrill ride,” he adds. “And I’m really looking forward to the future and doing something I thoroughly enjoy doing — farming.”

Johnson and his wife Patricia have four children, daughters Lindsey (18), LeeAnn (12), and sons Dan (8) and Dawson (3).

Previous state winners from Georgia include: Timothy McMillian of Enigma, 1990; Bud Butcher of Senoia, 1991; James Lee Adams of Camilla, 1992; John Morgan of Mystic, 1993; Alan Verner of Rutlege, 1994; Donnie Smith of Willacoochee, 1995; Armond Morris of Ocilla, 1996; Thomas Coleman Jr. of Hartsfield, 1997; Glenn Heard of Bainbridge, 1998; Bob McLendon of Leary, 1999; James Lee Adams of Camilla, 2000; Daniel Johnson of Alma, 2001; Armond Morris of Ocilla, 2002; Jim Donaldson of Metter, 2003; Joe Boddiford of Sylvania, 2004; Jimmy Webb of Leary, 2005; and Gary Paulk of Wray, 2006.

Georgia has had two overall winners with James Lee Adams of Camilla in 2000 and Armond Morris of Ocilla in 2002.