Linwood ‘Lin’ Jones’ work in improving beef genetics, saving money on buying mineral supplements and in cooperative value-added marketing of beef calves has gained nationwide attention.

It has also added countless dollars to the value of cattle sold from his farm and other beef farms in his county.

As a result, Jones has been selected as Virginia’s state winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Jones joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award.

The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

A farmer for 33 years, Jones operates Berk-Mar Farm on 555 acres. His hay on 255 acres yields two to three tons per acre. He pastures cattle on about 300 acres. “We also graze some of our hay fields to spread our cattle over 450 acres of rotational grazing,” he adds.

His beef herd consists of 200 Angus-Gelbvieh cross cows. He keeps six bulls — three Angus, one Gelbvieh and two Balancer bulls. The Balancer breed consists of Angus-Gelbvieh crosses.

Jones also raises chickens on contract in two houses for Tyson Foods. He raises 60,000 birds per flock and five flocks per year. “We started growing chickens in 1990,” recalls Jones. “We wanted the poultry litter for fertilizer plus the added income from chickens.” In spreading litter, he follows a nutrient management plan and typically applies two tons per acre. 

His forages include tall fescue and orchardgrass. He also planted 17 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa for feeding weaned calves. Some of his fescue includes the MaxQ variety known for its non-toxic endophyte fungus. Most Kentucky 31 fescue contains a toxic fungus that depresses cattle performance.

He replanted one patch of MaxQ after a drought, but another stand in a river bottom has persisted for eight years.

Aggressive weed control

“We use aggressive weed control to produce high quality forage,” he says. His main target weeds are thistle, spiny amaranth and horsenettle.

“I’ve been farming since I could walk,” says Jones. “My first farm job was digging thistle, then hand-spraying thistle.” In high school, he raised feeder pigs and raised hogs as a young adult. He transitioned out of the hogs when pork prices fell to focus on his cattle.

In 2003, he bought an in-line bale wrapper for making haylage, or round bale silage. “This increased our efficiency by lessening the need for hay storage buildings,” says Jones.

“This silage has also improved herd health. We’re able to harvest, bale and wrap in half the time it takes to put up dry hay.”

“We market our cattle through the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association fall feeder calf sale,” he says. Buckingham County producers receive average premiums of about 10 cents per pound for calves offered in this special sale.

To qualify for this sale, calves undergo a strict vaccination program, exceeding requirements for Virginia’s Quality Assured feeder calves.

“We are also certified in Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and this conveys to buyers that our cattle are handled under optimum conditions,” says Jones. “We have received positive feedback on the benefits of this program. Buyers don’t have to treat these calves for illness while feeding them.”

An unusual aspect of this sale is that more than 20 producers agree to use semen from only two bulls for artificial insemination to breed their cows and heifers. This produces a uniform group of 1,000 to 1,900 feeder calves on sale day.

These bulls are selected for temperament, calving ease and yearling weight expected progeny differences (EPD’s), resulting in calves that produce excellent growth rates.

Each year, Jones and other producers from the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association visit Pennsylvania feedlots where their calves are finished.

“These trips have shown that our vaccination program consistently produces healthy calves that perform well in feedlots,” he adds.

Jones achieves an overall conception rate of 65 percent using artificial insemination. Breeding begins in December. Calving commences the following September, and all calves are on the ground before cold weather sets in.

Markets bred females

“We market bred females through the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association annual Bred Heifer Sale,” says Jones. These females meet Virginia Premium Assured Heifer (VAPAH) standards with benchmarks for age, frame score, condition, muscling, sire EPD’s, service sire EPD’s, vaccinations, insecticides, pelvic measurements and reproductive tract scoring.

He has received grants from Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission funds to help build a hay storage barn and has applied for similar funding to improve his cattle handling and hay feeding equipment.

Jones participates in a bulk order mineral program. The minerals are tailored for area soil conditions. As treasurer of the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association, his wife Brenda organizes the mineral buying.

“We ask suppliers to submit sealed bids,” says Brenda. “The BCA board selects the low-cost supplier with the superior product to deliver our minerals to a central location where the farmers pick them up.”

Group buying saves about $5 for each 50-pound bag of minerals purchased.

Since Lin’s cattle are located on different farms, he has three separate covered cattle handling facilities. “Built properly, these facilities will last a lifetime, and reduce stress on both the cattle and the people working the cattle,” he says. If necessary, Lin and Brenda can treat their cattle with little or no additional labor.

For the working facility he uses most, Jones installed fencing made from highway guardrails. “The guardrails have been a solid investment, and the cattle will not challenge them,” he adds.

In 2013, Jones received the Virginia Beef Improvement Federation’s Commercial Producer of the Year award. He has been an Extension and 4-H volunteer.

For the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association, he has served on the board of directors, the marketing committee, the heifer sale committee and the feeder calf sale committee. He also serves on the board of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association.

As assistant farm manager, Brenda keeps cattle records and schedules health care. In the Buckingham Cattlemen’s Association, she has served on the board as treasurer. She is also an Extension and 4-H volunteer. Lin’s mother, Kathleen Bryant Jones, handles bookkeeping for Berk-Mar Farm.

Lin and Brenda have two adult children, Kelly Jones Snoddy and Berkley Jones. They grew up working on the farm. Kelly works as a conservation specialist for the Peter Francisco Soil & Water Conservation District. Berkley helps on the farm during hay season and harvests timber for local landowners.

Robert “Bobby” Grisso, associate director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Jennifer Ligon, Buckingham County Extension agent, nominated Jones for the award. “It is unusual for producers to agree on production practices and market their cattle together so well,” says Ligon.

Benefits entire group

“What benefits Berk-Mar Farm benefits the entire group. Lin and Brenda are hard-working mentors for other area farmers.”

As the Virginia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Jones will 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 Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of either another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 24th consecutive year.

Swisher has contributed some $924,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Previous state winners from Virginia include: Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater, 1990; Russell Inskeep of Culpepper, 1991; Harry Bennett of Covington, 1992; Hilton Hudson of Alton, 1993; Buck McCann of Carson, 1994; George M. Ashman, Jr. of Amelia, 1995; Bill Blalock of Baskerville, 1996; G. H. Peery III of Ceres, 1997; James Bennett of Red House, 1998; Ernest Copenhaver of Meadowview, 1999; John Davis of Port Royal, 2000; James Huffard III of Crockett, 2001; J. Hudson Reese of Scottsburg, 2002; Charles Parkerson of Suffolk, 2003; Lance Everett of Stony Creek, 2004; Monk Sanford of Orange, 2005; Paul House of Nokesville, 2006; Steve Berryman of Surry, 2007; Tim Sutphin of Dublin, 2008; Billy Bain of Dinwiddie, 2009; Wallick Harding of Jetersville, 2010; Donald Horsley of Virginia Beach, 2011; and Maxwell Watkins of Sutherland, 2012.

Virginia has had two overall winners, Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater in 1990 and Charles Parkerson of Suffolk in 2003.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Jones farm, and the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 12-16.

The judges this year include John McKissick, longtime University of Georgia Extension ag economist from Athens, Ga.; farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; and John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years.