Jim Sidebottom of Greensburg, Ky., grew up on a dairy, but had to work long at off-farm jobs before saving enough money to start his own dairy farm.

As a result of his success as a dairy farmer, Sidebottom has been selected as the Kentucky state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Sidebottom 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.

Sidebottom farms 518 acres, including 118 acres of rented land and 400 acres of owned land. He raises about 200 head of replacement heifers and milks about 210 cows three times daily. His farm’s rolling herd average is up 30 percent since 1985 and now is about 22,000 pounds of milk per year.

Paying attention to cow comfort, keeping facilities clean, using artificial insemination and feeding high quality forages is paying off.

His crops include corn for grain on 203 acres yielding 180 to 206 bushels per acre, corn silage on 100 acres yielding 25 to 28 tons per acre and hay on 50 acres yielding about two tons per acre. He also grows wheat harvested as silage, hay or straw for use as bedding.

His permanent hay fields consist of fescue, clover and orchardgrass, harvested once per year. He then uses the land as pasture for heifers and dry cows. He says he buys better quality alfalfa and at lower costs than if he grew it himself.

He protects the environment by using no-till planting, and he follows a comprehensive nutrient management plan in spreading dairy waste as fertilizer on his fields.

Sidebottom sells most of his milk for the fluid market through a milk-marketing agency. Most bull calves from the farm are sold to a local farmer for backgrounding.

He took a roundabout journey to become a milk producer. After high school, he was drafted into the Army and stationed in Germany. “My wife Ona and I spent a one-year honeymoon in Europe,” he recalls. After completing military service, he owned a floor covering business and farmed part time.

 “I ran the carpet business 10 years before I saved enough to buy my farm,” he says. “I found myself enjoying the time I spent farming much more than the time I spent laying carpet. A buyer came along for my carpeting store, so I sold it.”

Bought acreage in 1981

In 1981, he bought 203 acres, beef cows, some farm implements and started farming full time. A severe drought forced him to make changes. “Milking cows was not my original plan,” he says, “but after the drought, milking seemed to be the only way I could hang on to the farm. So in 1985, we traded our beef herd for 16 Holsteins.”

Early on, access to capital held him back, but he persevered and expanded. In the beginning, he pastured his cows and milked in a small six-cow parlor. Today, he runs a confinement dairy and milks 20 cows at a time in a modern parallel parlor.

Sidebottom built a new shed and equipped it with chutes used during hoof trimming and breeding. As cow numbers increased, he added grain bins and now has a 28,000-bushel storage capacity. He built hay barns to preserve forage quality. He built a commodity shed to store bulk feeds and minerals.

And he built new barns that keep cows clean. He produces safe, high quality milk as indicated by tests for somatic cell counts and preliminary incubation counts — measures of milk bacterial contamination.

This expansion is ongoing. “Our family has worked hard to build our operation,” he says. “Our next expansion will call for a new freestall barn that will let us use our existing barns to house our heifers.”

He aims to double his herd size within five years. To do this, he’ll need to add to the land he farms. He’ll need this land to grow his feeds and to have a place for safe waste disposal. Then, as he increases herd size and overall milk production, he hopes to welcome members of the third generation of his family, if they want to live and work on the farm.

 “I learned back in the Army that if you want to make a difference, you’ve got to get involved,” he says.

Sidebottom has been an active leader in Farm Bureau. He has served on the Green County Farm Bureau’s board and seven of its committees. At the state level, he has supported Farm Bureau’s state and national legislative efforts, and has served on several state committees.

He has also been an agricultural advisor to congressmen. He served as a board member for the local Southern States cooperative. He is on an advisory board for Forcht Bank. He chairs the Green County Soil Conservation District and has been a district supervisor since 1994. Earlier this year, he was named Green County Agriculturist of the Year.

He has served as Lake Cumberland Extension Area president. On the state level, he has served as president of Kentucky’s Ag Advancement Council and Dairy Development Council. He serves on the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and on a state environmental cost share committee. He has also served on the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Administrative Council.

He and his wife Ona are active members of Summersville Baptist Church. Each has been given the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel.

On the farm, Ona is responsible for raising the dairy calves and managing the farm records. She had never milked cows before her husband bought his first Holsteins. “We spent six hours milking those cows that first night,” she recalls. “Those cows just didn’t want to go into that parlor.”

Ona is also a strong leader. On the local level she has been active in Homemakers Club, Master Farm Homemakers, Green County Historical Society, the Democratic Party, 4-H volunteer work, Summersville Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, Green County Extension Council, Green County Extension District Board, Lake Cumberland Area Extension Council, Green County Farm Bureau Women, Green County Public Library Board and Green County Genealogy Society.

On the state level, Ona is a member and president of the Kentucky Master Farm Homemakers Guild. She was a Lake Cumberland Master Farm Homemaker in 2005, and she is on the board of the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association. She also serves as secretary of the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts Auxiliary.

Three adult children

The Sidebottoms have three adult children. Their son Stacy became a partner in the farming operation after graduating from high school. He’s on the Green County Agricultural Development Council and is first vice-president of the Green County Farm Bureau.

Their daughter Anna works for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture as a marketing specialist. She coordinates the ginseng trade for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Their daughter Laura is a middle school science teacher who also coaches girls’ sports teams.

Mike Tobin, director of the Commodity Division at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, is the state coordinator of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

Sidebottom was nominated for the award by Larry Clark, president of the Green County Farm Bureau. Clark admires Sidebottom’s overall knowledge of agriculture and his vision for the future of the industry for both Green County and the entire state.

As the Kentucky state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Sidebottom will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, and the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed, or a $500 donation to a designated charity on behalf of our newest sponsor, Dow Agrosciences.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, and the choice of either another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed, or a second $500 donation to a designated charity on behalf of our newest sponsor, Dow Agrosciences.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 23rd consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $884,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Kentucky farmers became eligible to compete for the award in 2006. Previous state winners from Kentucky include Sam Moore of Morgantown in 2006, Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek in 2007, Loretta Lyons of Tompkinsville in 2008, Doug Langley of Shelbyville in 2009 and Joe Nichols of Cadiz in 2010. Kentucky did not have a state winner in the award last year.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Sidebottom farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 5-10.

The judges for this year include Charles Snipes, a retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist who is president and research scientist with Stoneville R&D, Inc., from Greenville, Miss.; John McKissick, a longtime University of Georgia Extension ag economist from Athens, Ga.; and farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., who was selected as the overall winner in 2008.