A Vietnam War veteran, Sam Givhan of Safford, Ala., came home to his family farm in west central Alabama.

He diversified the farm and made it more profitable by adding an impressive catfish farming enterprise to the existing mix of beef cattle and field crops. He also has a strong record of service to farm and community organizations.

As a result of his success in raising cattle, catfish and row crops, Givhan has been selected as the Alabama state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

Givhan now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

Last year, he farmed 4,200 acres, including 2,323 acres of rented land and 1,877 acres of owned land. A farmer for 42 years, his crops include cotton, soybeans, wheat and corn. Drought last year depressed his corn and soybean yields, but his wheat yielded 42 bushels per acre and his cotton produced 820 pounds of lint per acre.

His beef herd includes about 420 cows and 20 bulls. His catfish operation features ponds covering 250 acres.

In 2000, Givhan returned to Vietnam and visited China to study aquaculture on a trip sponsored by Auburn University. This trip coincided with the large-scale import of fish from China, followed by additional fish coming to the U.S. from Vietnam. “Imported fish are not inspected like our domestic farm-raised catfish,” says Givhan. “These imports have risen dramatically. Along with the economic slowdown and slow catfish sales, these imports have hurt our industry. All of our catfish processors have had to cut back on their operations.”

Givhan supports cooperatives. He markets his catfish through SouthFresh Aquaculture, a division of Alabama Farmers Cooperative. He uses forward contracts to market corn, soybeans and wheat through Alabama Farmers Cooperative. He markets cotton through the Staplcotn Cooperative. He sells his cattle at the auction market in Uniontown, Ala.

In past years, he was an investor in a cotton gin and a local grain elevator. He also operates Central Alabama Equipment and Supply, selling aftermarket replacement parts and buying and selling used equipment.

He now lives on the farm where he was born and raised. “When I was a kid, we had 14 mules on this farm,” he recalls. The home he lives in was originally built during the 1830s, and has been remodeled and refurbished many times over the years.