Oct 19, 2023
Southeastern Farmer of the Year award goes to Arkansas greenhouse tomato grower

Arkansas greenhouse tomato grower Steve Cobb has been named the overall winner of the Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for 2023.

Cobb Farms, of Lake City, Arkansas, is a partnership enterprise that began 50 years ago. On 4,500 acres, Cobb Farms grows produce, row crops and show pigs. The Cane Island Produce branch grows vegetables, specializing in year-round greenhouse tomatoes.

Steve Cobb

Other 2023 Farmer of the Year state winners include growers of peppers, blueberries, blackberries, watermelon and other vegetables:

  • Gary Cecil, Cecil Farms Produce, Owensboro, Kentucky, watermelons, peppers, mixed vegetables, greenhouse flowers, field corn and soybeans.
  • Brad O’Neal, Coosaw Farms, Fairfax, South Carolina, watermelons, blueberries, organic blueberries, blackberries, field corn, cotton, sorghum.
  • Wade Purvis, Purvis Farms, Immokalee, Florida. Green beans, specialty beans (lima and edamame), peas and watermelon.“Excellence in Agriculture is how I would describe this year’s State Farmers of the Year,” senior judge David Wildy said in the release. “They are a leading group of farmers and businessmen who represent their states with excellence.”

Cane Island Produce, Cobb’s family and employee partnership’s newest endeavor, sells through a local community network and on its Facebook page. Cane Island Produce has recently branched out from the initial greenhouse tomato operation into other vegetables such as purple hull peas, okra, green beans, cucumbers, squash, bell peppers and jalapeno peppers. The company has plans to add more greenhouses.

On Cane Island Farms, Erick Lyerly, a family member spouse, said they are constantly exploring new ideas and technology. “We are working with Valley Irrigation on automated irrigation risers and wells controlled by smartphone,” he said in a news release. “We’re also considering the idea of building solar arrays on our farm and leveraging technology, such as targeted treatment with drones. Each of our entities holds environmental conservation to the highest standards. We’re currently focused on irrigation practices and seed selection as well as timing and rate of input applications. Through our partnership with NRCS, we’re looking into implementation of regenerative agriculture production practices.”

Sunbelt Ag ExpoWhile this year’s winner was a difficult decision for the judging team “without question, this year’s winner represents precisely what the Southeastern Farmer of the Year program is all about,” Wildly said in the release. “He is a very humble individual who goes above and beyond to help others and his community. He and his family’s operation checked all the boxes. Without a doubt, this farmer has what it takes to ensure that this family operation will be successful and sustainable.”

In its 33rd year, the Southeastern Farmer of the Year award recognizes excellence in agricultural production and farm management along with leadership in farm and community organizations. The award also honors family contributions in producing safe and abundant supplies of food, fiber, and shelter products.

State winners of the Sunbelt Expo award received a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from the sponsors. Cobb received a $15,000 cash prize from the sponsors as well as other prizes.

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