Shep and Rite Morris of Shorter were named the Alabama Farm-City Committee’s 2010 Farm of Distinction winner during a luncheon Monday, April 12, in Birmingham. As this year’s winner, the Morrises received prizes valued at more than $10,000 and will represent Alabama in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition during the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, GA, Oct. 19-21.
As owners of Morris and Morris Farms, Shep and Rite’s operation includes 3,000 acres of row crops in Macon and Montgomery Counties. About half the land is in cotton, with the remainder split between corn and soybeans. By growing conventional cotton and harvesting it with a stripper rather than with cotton pickers, preferred by most Southeastern farmers, Morris and Morris Farms has reduced its nitrogen fertilizer use by 50 percent with no yield loss. The corn-cotton rotation also allows Shep to use the same planter and same labor to harvest both crops. As a result, he is better able to control plant diseases and pests, and reduce repair costs by following a strict maintenance plan.
Despite these efforts, the one aspect of farming Shep said he has no control over is the weather and, this year, cold, wet conditions have been challenging.
"It’s made harvest tough. We finished shelling corn on Aug. 31 this past year, and that was a Friday. It rained on Saturday, Sept. 1, and it basically never stopped all fall," Shep said.
To make matters worse, soggy conditions have prevented Shep from spreading fertilizer and delayed corn planting by at least three weeks.
Meanwhile, Shep stays busy as a county, state and national farm leader. He serves as president of the Macon County Farmers Federation and Milstead Gin, and is on the boards of directors of Autauga Quality Cotton Association, First South Farm Credit, Alabama Cotton Commission, and Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District. He said the work of these groups helps ensure future generations have the opportunity to farm.
"This is a tough business and we need to have the potential to make some profits to draw the young people in. You can have all kind of programs, but nothing will draw a young person like the potential to make some profit," he said.
Shep and Rite have three children, Shep Jr., Beverly and J.W.
As Alabama’s Farm of Distinction winner, the Morrises received a John Deere Gator donated by SunSouth, Snead Ag and TriGreen Equipment dealers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. They also received a $1,250 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative, redeemable at any of its member Quality Co-op stores. The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Health presented the Morrises with an engraved, mahogany farm sign. Also, as the state winner, Shep and Rite 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 several other prizes.
Five other finalists also were honored during the program, held in conjunction with the Alabama Farmers Federation State Women’s Leadership Conference. They were Bryan and Beverly Hughes of Tuscaloosa County, Larry and Bonita LouAllen of Lawrence County, Chase and Noelle Bradley of Monroe County, Garry and Denise Staples of St. Clair County, and John and Katie Wesson of Talladega 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.