By Debra Davis
|Farm of Distinction winners Billy and Terri Gilley of Cullman County accept their awards from the sponsors following the April 16 Farm-City awards banquet. From left are, Jim Allen with Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Terri Gilley, Billy Gilley, Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore and Lester Killebrew, chairman of SunSouth.
A poultry and cattle farm from Cullman was named Alabama’s 2007 Farm of Distinction by the Alabama Farm-City Committee on April 16, 2007, in Birmingham. As this year’s winner, Billy and Terri Gilley received prizes valued at more than $10,000 and will represent Alabama in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition with the winner being named during the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, GA, Oct. 16-18.
Sixteen years after leaving behind the steady hours and dependable paycheck of a factory job for the 24/7 responsibility and economic risk of poultry farming, the Gilleys say they’ve never regretted the decision.
"I guess I enjoy the challenge," said Billy. "Each day I try to do something to improve our operation and make it more efficient or improve the appearance of it."
Terri is responsible for the couple’s six broiler houses, which produce about 4.5 million pounds of chicken each year, while Billy is in charge of the farm’s 200-head beef cattle operation. Daughter Angela, who works for the Farm Service Agency, grew up working on the farm and winning awards in livestock shows with her family’s registered Charolais and commercial cattle. Today, cattle shows are still part of the Gilley farm plan, with Billy selling some of his Charolais-Maine Anjou crossed calves to young people seeking to win their own grand champion ribbons. Focusing not just on profits, but also on conservation measures, the Gilleys earned Tyson’s environmental stewardship award in 2005.
The Farm of Distinction finalists are judged on their management, conservation and environmental practices as well as the overall aesthetic appearance of the farm and leadership of the farm owner.
As the winner, the Gilleys received a John Deere Gator CX valued at more than $5,000 donated by Alabama SunSouth dealers in Abbeville, Andalusia, Brundidge, Clanton, Dothan, Montgomery, Samson and Tuskegee and Georgia SunSouth dealers in Blakely, Columbus, Donalsonville and LaGrange. In addition, the Alabama Farmers Cooperative presented them with a $1,250 gift certificate, redeemable at any of its member Quality Co-op stores.
The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Health awarded the Gilleys an engraved farm sign valued at more than $1,500. The Alabama winner also will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo. The Sunbelt winner will receive $14,000, plus additional prizes.
Five other finalists also were honored during the program, which was held in conjunction with the Alabama Farmers Federation State Women’s Conference. They were George Robertson Jr. of Chambers County, David and Martha Wright of Dallas County, George and Gloria Jeffcoat of Houston County, Ronnie and Mitzi Holladay of Lowndes County and Dwight and Glenda Williams of Marshall County. Each finalist received a $250 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative.
The Farm-City Committee of Alabama presents the Farm of Distinction Award annually. Farm-City Week is observed nationally each year the week before Thanksgiving as a way to help bridge the gap between rural and urban residents.