Farming is nothing new to Ray Allan Mackey, who has been busy in the fields for more than 30 years.
His diverse knowledge and techniques allowed him to win the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award in Kentucky. Mackey will join nine other state winners as a finalist for the overall title of Southeastern Farmer of the Year.
"(This is) very humbling," Mackey said. "It just causes you to reflect on your career on farming and since the beginning."
As the state winner, Mackey receives a $2,500 cash prize and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida; a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States Cooperative; the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences; and a Columbia vest from Ivey's Outdoor and Farm Supply.
Mackey grew up on his father's farm. As a youth, he raised registered Angus cattle for 4-H and FFA and grew strawberries, tobacco and popcorn. He earned an agronomy degree from the University of Kentucky.
In 1986, Mackey purchased his first farm. Today, he farms 4,535 acres in total, with 1,350 rented and 3,185 owned. He grows corn, soybeans, burley tobacco, hogs and beef cattle.
Last year, his per-acre yields included 200 bushels of corn from 2,050 acres, 55 bushels of soybeans from 1,725 acres and 2,850 pounds of burley tobacco from 62 acres, according to a news release. Mackey also operates about 300 acres in hay and pasture.
The contest information also said Mackey raises about 5,000 head of hogs per year in a wean-to-finish operation as an independent producer. He has 90 to 100 beef cows and raises weaned and backgrounded calves. His hogs are sold to Tyson Foods and he sells feeder calves to Midwest feedlots through order buyers from a local auction market.
Mackey uses a number of energy-saving strategies for his agriculture operations in Hardin and LaRue counties.
"We sell most of our corn and soybeans to river terminals and processors to the west or to poultry operations to the south," he said in a release.
Mackey has doubled his burley tobacco production and is controlling tobacco production costs by using greenhouse production for transplants, using labor-saving curing barns and delivering burley in larger, more efficient packages, he said.
He uses no-till planting or minimum tillage to prevent erosion, the release says. He also plants herbicide-resistant varieties and uses long crop rotation.