Virginia’s historical significance in agriculture is widely known, and the state is a major contributor to the industry’s current technological innovations and sustainable practices. This reputation garnered Virginia the designation of “Spotlight State” at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., Oct. 19-21.
Known as “North America’s Premier Farm Show”®, the 43rd annual expo featured the latest in agricultural technology, hosting more than 1,200 exhibitors representing almost 4,000 different product lines. These exhibitors showcased the latest agricultural innovations to help farmers enhance their economic and environmental sustainability.
The 2021 expo spotlighted the state with the slogan “Virginia Agriculture, 400 Years of Progress.” Agriculture and forestry combined are Virginia’s top industries thanks to diverse topography that enable farmers to cultivate a wide variety of commodities. The exhibit highlighted Virginia’s innovative industry that continues building on its centuries-old reputation.
Mike Parrish, co-chair of the Virginia Spotlight State Committee and a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in in Dinwiddie County, agrees.
“We want to represent the state as a whole and showcase the successes of Virginia ag,” Parrish said. “By starting a conversation about the historical significance of ag in the state, we can also help people understand how we’ve contributed to the advancement of U.S. agriculture through research and technology.”
Individual farmers also were recognized for their contributions to the industry. Since its inception in 1990, the Swisher/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award has evolved into a prestigious honor that recognizes outstanding agribusiness leaders. Ten states participate in the program: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Robert “Bob” Martin Hall of York, S.C., was selected as the 2021 Swisher/ Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year, and Hanover County Farm Bureau member Charles Edwin “CJ” Isbell of Keenbell Farm was Virginia Farmer of the Year.
Keenbell Farm specializes in grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, free-range poultry, turkeys, eggs and grains. Each state winner received cash awards, other prizes and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo.
“It was a very humbling experience, being around so many other outstanding farmers with impressive operations,” Isbell shared. “And it was great that Virginia was the spotlight state, and I could be there to represent the commonwealth with lots of fellow Virginians, plus Farm Bureau and Virginia Cooperative Extension.”
He said being named Virginia Farmer of the Year was an honor, given the award’s long-standing history and the names that preceded him.
“It may be my name on the recognition, but it’s truly an award for the family,” Isbell said. “Because without the support of my wife and my father, and the customers who patronize our business, we wouldn’t be where we are.”