November 2007
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From Farming Cotton and Peanuts to Agritourism, Mitch Lazenby Accepts Challenges on the Farm

  Cotton and peanut farmers in Lee County, Mitch and Dawn Lazenby value family, farming and traditional values. One of the things for which Mitch is most thankful this year is his family including daughter Jamie Claire who was born this past May.
While Carrying a Tradition
Four Generations Strong

By Ashley Smith

With a thankful heart and a thoughtful look in his eye, Mitch Lazenby reviews the year from a professional and personal perspective. In spite of the drought that will certainly affect his bottom line, Mitch takes the year in stride and looks forward to upcoming seasons. From farming cotton and peanuts to adding additional agritourism opportunities, this young farmer enjoys what he does. With wife Dawn at his side, he is ready to accept the inevitably challenges farming has to offer.

Farming has been a way of life to Mitch for years. He grew up in a farm family – he is carrying on a tradition that is four generations strong.

"The youngest of three children, I spent lots of time with my dad on the farm," said Mitch. "I was always close to him when I was growing up – I remember riding in his truck a lot!"

As with most farm families, he was expected to help when needed. And Mitch was most needed when his father Harry had health issues in 1993 which prevented him from carrying out his farm duties. Mitch picked up the pace as his father was not able – and he has not stopped since. Mitch manages 600 acres of family timberland and farms 700 acres of cotton, peanuts and small grains like wheat and rye. Harry can still be seen around the farm checking crops and performing other daily activities; he now serves as a knowledgeable farm consultant to Mitch.

"After farming for more than 50 years, Dad offers a wealth of technical expertise and real-world experience," shared Mitch. "When I have questions about how to handle a situation, I look to Dad for advice and a recommendation."

Having a farm consultant is important to Mitch, as is having a farm partner. Since 2000, Troy Sims has worked with Mitch as a farm partner. The two men have known each other for years.

"Mitch and Troy have been friends since they were six," said Dawn. "Troy is a great asset and a great friend. He is newly wed to Jennifer, who has proven to be a great helpmate in life and on the farm."

With the drought experienced in the Southeast in 2007, this has been a year like few others. On the approximate 400 acres of cotton he planted, Mitch estimated he will only be able to harvest about 40.

"Cutting your losses is something farmers have to learn all too well," declared Mitch. "Unfortunately it has been one of those kinds of years. This is my 17th crop; things have never been so bad we would not even harvest!"

The cotton will surely be a significant loss this year (much of the cotton cropland Mitch farms is at a 600 lb/ac base); the story with his approximate 300 acres of peanuts sounds much the same. At the time of this writing, Mitch was just beginning to combine peanuts. During a typical year, he expects 4,000-5,000 lb/ac; however, results show this year’s production at approximately 1,000 lb/ac. Mitch proclaimed farmers have been hit hard this year but the full story will not be available until probably December, once everything "shakes out." Success for farmers is usually judged by whether or not a farmer decides to farm another year.

"When things are going good, we all tend to put on our blinders," said Mitch. "A year like this one forces you to re-evaluate the scope of your operation. Many positives come out of a negative year. For example, diversification makes a difference."

By diversification, Mitch means agritourism. Over the past couple of years, he and wife Dawn have grown the agritourism side of their business. Sitting only a few miles outside the Auburn/Opelika city limits, this couple realizes the full potential diversifying into agritourism could mean for them. They plant several acres of corn, pumpkins and other hand crops each year. Already more than 2000 visitors in the past four to five years experienced farm life through Lazenby Farms. With a new 6,000 sq. ft. building, Mitch feels he now has the infrastructure in place to accommodate even more guests. Dawn intends to put more effort into this side of the business as well. Whether a hayride or a hoe down, southern hospitality is sure to be found on Lazenby Farms!

Lazenby Farms depends on Taleecon Farmers Co-op in Notasulga for much of their farm needs, such as seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

"The service at Taleecon is outstanding," claimed Mitch. "When store Manager Scott Hartley took the business 10-15 years ago, he took a sow’s ear and turned it into a silk purse. The store is very organized, clean and offers a great selection whether it is chemicals or clothing."

According to Mitch, Scott’s attention to detail, care of the customer and restless nature to be the best drive him to make Taleecon one of the nicest Co-op stores in the state. Mitch and Dawn recommend visiting the brand new storeroom where it will be easy to understand how Taleecon has earned this family farm’s business.

As talk turns to Thanksgiving and the things for which he is most grateful, Mitch quickly smiles and shares how thankful he is for his family, his wife Dawn and their new little one, Jamie Claire, who was born on May 18 of this year. Farming and the lifestyle it offers have become even more important to Mitch since the birth of his daughter. A sentimental sort, he values family, farming and traditional values. In the cool morning air as he rocks in the chair on the front porch of the restored farmhouse that sits next to his cotton field, Mitch Lazenby dreams big and hopes for the best. With wife Dawn beside him and daughter Jamie Claire to boost him forward, Mitch is a thankful farmer ready for future challenges.

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.