What is in this article?:
- Maxwell Watkins: Sunbelt Farmer of the Year for Virginia
- Custom cotton harvesters
- FSA advisor
• 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.
Custom cotton harvesters
He is able to get in and out of cotton because he relies on custom cotton harvesters. He sold his cotton picker and module builder in 2004.
He has storage capacity for 65,000 bushels of grain and often stores corn until January when prices tend to peak. Grain storage speeds up the timely harvest of crops such as wheat. “We can harvest wheat at 16.5 percent moisture and then dry and store it,” he says.
Urbanization and the rising prices for land in the area have prevented Watkins from being able to buy more land for farming.
Watkins also owns and operates non-farming sideline businesses. In one, he contracts with the Virginia Department of Transportation to use his farm equipment in removing snow from local roads. “We mount snow plows on the front of our tractors,” he says.
In 2006, he and his family opened Watkins Outdoor Products in Sutherland on the outskirts of the city of Petersburg, Va. This retail dealership sells farm and lawn equipment.
“This business supports a real need in our area,” he says. The business serves an urbanizing area where farmland has been converted to small farms, subdivisions and homes on relatively large tracts. The business sells the LS, Mahindra and McCormick brands of small tractors, along with Husqvarna, Ferris, Hustler and other brands of lawn and garden equipment.
“We also run a custom fertilizer and lime spreading business owned and managed by my son Cody,” he adds.
A farmer for 35 years, Watkins grew his first crops at age 15. From an early age, he knew he wanted to farm. He still loves the rewards and challenges of farming.
“My first memories of farm chores include riding mules in tobacco fields,” he recalls.
“I spent many days as a young boy learning the ins and outs of farming from my grandfather and my dad. We had a hog operation while I was in high school.”
He earned the FFA State Farmer Degree in 1979. After high school, he farmed with his father. He remembers growing pumpkins, the first crop he grew on his own. After his father died in 1994, he assumed full responsibility for the farm and started growing tobacco and cotton.
Watkins also takes time to serve in leadership positions for local agricultural and community organizations. He serves on the County Committee for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Dinwiddie County.
He served as a director on the board for the Appomattox River Soil & Water Conservation District and has received awards from the District for his work in education, conservation and as a director.
He is on the board of the Dinwiddie County Industrial Development Authority. He has been a volunteer Extension leader. He served on the board of the local Southern States Cooperative and was on an advisory board of young farmers for Southern States.
He has been nominated by local Extension agents for cotton farming awards. He has also been a member of the Virginia Sheep Producers Association.
His wife Susan grew up in a family that worked in retail sales. She manages Watkins Outdoor Products, Inc., and also helps out on the farm. “We are blessed to have good people associated with our farm and store,” says Watkins.
“Susan was one of the best operators I ever had,” he adds. “She did strip-till planting and she always planted in straight rows.”