Louis “Red” Larson of Okeechobee, Fla., has added another jewel to his crown of accomplishments. Larson, who has been a dairy farmer for more than 57 years, has been named the recipient of the prestigious 2005 Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

His selection was announced at the Willie B. Withers Expo Luncheon during the opening day of the 28th Annual Sunbelt Expo.

The announcement was made by officials of Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., and the Sunbelt Expo of Moultrie, Ga., sponsors of the Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for 16 years.

“What an honor it is to have someone of Mr. Larson’s stature selected as the winner of this year’s award,” said J. Thomas Ryan, president of Swisher International. “When it comes to dairy farming in the Southeast, he certainly ranks at the top.

“His long list of accomplishments — ranging from the Dairy Hall of Fame, Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame to Dairyman of the Century — speak for themselves,” added Ryan. “He makes a tremendous addition to the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Hall of Honor.”

Larson was selected for the honor by a panel of judges in competition among eight state finalists in the Southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

“This award is a tribute to many people that we have worked with for a lot of years,” said Larson. “Without their wonderful help, support, dedication and loyalty this award would not be possible.

“After meeting the other state winners and seeing their operations, it is also very unexpected,” he added. “It’s great to have two companies like Swisher International and the Sunbelt Expo to care enough about the agricultural industry to sponsor this award.”

As the Southeastern Farmer of the Year, Larson received a $14,000 cash award from Swisher International. He also received the use of a tractor of his choice for a year from Massey Ferguson North America; a $500 gift certificate, a $500 cash award and a custom designed jacket from the Williamson-Dickies Company; a $3,600 custom-made gun safe from Misty Morn Safe Company; and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States.

Dairy farming has been the backbone of Larson’s distinguished agriculture career that started in 1948. His first operation was a 160-acre dairy farm that he rented in Dade County, Fla.

“I heard about that farm for rent so I quit school, got married, sold the house and had enough money to rent it,” said Larson. “I had a dairy farm — something I had always wanted.”

Today, his massive operation in Okeechobee County covers 10,000 acres with the focus still on the dairy industry. There are more than 6,000 milking cows that produce 120,000,000 pounds of milk annually. The average per cow is 21,000 pounds.

Grass and hay, used for silage, covers 3,000 acres and yields 20-25 tons per acre.

“One of the smartest things I did was to marry my wife Reda,” said Larson. “I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life.” They have four grown children — sons Woody and John, who operate their own farming operations and daughters Barbara Stuart of Orlando and Kathy Cooley of Okeechobee.

Larson is the fifth winner of the Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award from Florida. Previous winners were Ernie Nunez of Dade City in 1991, Leroy Baldwin of Ocala in 1993, Rex Clonts of Apopka in 1997, and Doug Holmberg of Valrico, in 1999.

The other state finalists for 2005 Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award included: James A. Wise of Samson, Ala.; Jimmy Webb of Leary, Ga.; Laurance W. Carter of Rolling Fork, Miss.; Danny McConnell of Hendersonville, N.C.; Chalmers R. Carr III of Ridge Spring, S.C.; John H. Litz of Morristown, Tenn.; and Wallace “Monk” Sanford III of Orange, Va.

It was announced at the luncheon that Kentucky would be added next year to the list of states participating in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award.