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• As a result of his success as a diversified crop farmer, Maxwell Watkins has been selected as the Virginia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
A sixth generation farmer, Maxwell Watkins of Sutherland, Va., raises high yielding crops in fields with a long history tracing back to land grants from the King of England.
As a result of his success as a diversified crop farmer, Watkins has been selected as the Virginia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Watkins 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.
Watkins farms around 2,800 acres, some 2,700 acres of rented land and 115 acres of owned land.
Last year’s crops included soybeans on 1,490 acres, wheat on 587 acres, cotton on 426 acres, corn on 251 acres and flue-cured tobacco on 60 acres.
Per acre yields were 39 bushels for soybeans, 132 bushels for corn, 86 bushels for wheat, 776 pounds for cotton and 3,250 pounds for tobacco.
He also raises fescue and ladino clover hay on 85 acres.
In addition, he maintains a beef herd of about 35 cows. He normally sells calves at 500 pounds, but when corn prices are low, he harvests corn for silage and feeds it to keep calves a little longer.
Watkins is one of few farmers who plant strip-till tobacco, with wheat as one of his cover crops. Tobacco is the only crop he irrigates. He has also used strip-till planting for cotton, soybeans and corn.
He sells tobacco to Philip Morris International. A five-year contract allows him to market more than 300,000 pounds of tobacco per year. The contract also pays a premium price for tobacco free of maleic hydrazide pesticide residues.
For his tobacco crops, Watkins relies on guest workers from Mexico who come to his farm year after year to work under the Federal H-2A labor program.
In past years, Watkins grew 80 acres of pumpkins. He also raised sheep and had a flock of about 200 ewes. During the 1990s, he gave up the pumpkin and sheep to concentrate on his then-new cotton farming enterprise.
He decided to forgo cotton this year in favor of corn and soybeans because these crops offered better prices.