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Spencers Named Outstanding Young Farmers

Calhoun County row crop and beef cattle farmers Brad and Carla Spencer of Vardaman were recently named state winners of the 2011 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Achievement Award. They were recognized for their farming innovations, leadership skills, and involvement with Farm Bureau and their community. The announcement was made in December during Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in Jackson.

The Spencers will receive a new Ford pickup truck, the use of John Deere and Kubota tractors, $500 from Dodge and $1800 toward the purchase of technology from Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. They will represent Mississippi in national competition in Honolulu, Hawaii, in January.

A third generation farmer, Brad grew up on his family’s Vardaman sweet potato farm and planted his first crop, a total of five acres, when he was 15. Through the years, he gradually increased his acreage until he was able to form a partnership with his father. The Spencers now annually grow 500 acres of sweet potatoes. They package, sell and distribute four grades of potatoes and bag and custom pack potatoes for other brokers.

The farm diversified in recent years, planting peanuts and soybeans for the benefit of crop rotation. Brad also runs 50 head of cattle and grows 20 acres of watermelons with his sons, primarily to teach his children about responsibility and decision-making. The money his sons receive from selling the cattle and watermelons is saved for their college education. For extra income, Brad sells dirt and mulch to local landscapers and to individuals in the community. He also sells and spreads chicken litter.

One of the biggest challenges with the Spencers’ sweet potato operation was figuring out how to more effectively market their crop.

“We wanted to be able to sell the entire crop,” Brad said. “After investigating different marketing options, we now use processors and canneries for our lower-grade potatoes and for other farmers’ potatoes as well.

“Using our packing shed to pack for other packers, both in-state and out-of-state, provides us with extra income,” he said. “In our packing shed, I added two more packing lines that are designed for my own washer to help make this process easier. A local machine shop built these machines. By redesigning my packing line with a few modifications, I increased the productivity of the line. Doing this, I cut my time in half and increased production by 40 percent.”

As a cost-saving measure, Brad has learned to scout for insects. In addition, he modified a piece of equipment so that it could be used for both sweet potatoes and peanuts. The equipment is made so that you can spray and plow with the same piece of equipment. He also uses Round-up and no-till as much as possible.

Brad’s future plans include expanding his storage facility and building a cannery yard to load trucks indoors. He also plans to use a guidance system in the fields to more efficiently use the land. In addition, he would like to help the sweet potato farming community get a viable crop insurance product in place for sweet potatoes. Finally, he plans to continue to cooperate with Mississippi State University in growing test plots with his sweet potatoes.

The Spencers are active members of their county Farm Bureau, where he is a member of the board of directors and serves as YF&R chair. She is county women’s committee vice chair, and they are members of the State YF & R Committee, where he has served as vice chair. He has also served as vice chair of the MFBF Sweet Potato Commodity Advisory Committee and has participated in the statewide Farm Families of Mississippi Ag Image Campaign.

Brad is a member of the board of directors of the Sweet Potato Council and the board of directors of the Sweet Potato Council Fruit and Vegetable Co-op. He was named the Sweet Potato Council Young Farmer of the Year in 2006 for promoting new ways of selling sweet potatoes.

Brad is active in numerous other ag organizations, his church and various civic organization. He coaches two baseball teams every year as a volunteer and is the volunteer pitching coach for the local high school baseball team.

The Spencers have two children, ages 11 and 8.

For more information about the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers program, contact YF&R Coordinator Kirsten Johnson at 601-977-4277.

 

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The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is the state's largest general farm organization with more than 197,000 member-families statewide.  There are Farm Bureaus in all 82 counties in Mississippi where agriculture comprises a fundamental part of Mississippi 's economy.  Headquartered in Jackson , the federation is an independent, non-profit agricultural organization and is not associated with any arm of the government.  For more information about Farm Bureau, visit our website at www.msfb.org.

© 2007 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation