Cotton Farmer of the Year
Harvey Harrell was honored as the 2012 Cotton Farmer of the Year at the 39th annual Farm City Day Celebration held on Friday, November 16. The Cotton Farmer is selected by the Jackson County Extension Service with the assistance of the local Cotton Gins.
Harvey is a 2nd generation farmer in Jackson County. He grew up helping his dad, but after high school graduation moved to Montgomery to work for the Colonial Bread Company. While in Montgomery he met and married the love of his life, a city girl named Jan. After his father’s sudden death from a heart attack, he moved back to Florida to take over the family operation.
In 1970, Harvey made agreements with multiple landowners to continue the farm leases his father had. Although he grew up working with his dad in the farming business, he realized very quickly that he really did not know how to farm. He recalls that first year planting the most crooked rows you could imagine. Harvey and his young wife moved back here with almost nothing, no land, and little money, but they had something that money cannot buy. He had a family reputation and his father’s friends, who took a chance on him, and took the time to teach him farming. Ed Peacock and Woodrow Porter gave him credit to buy seed, feed, fertilizer and equipment with the only collateral being the longtime relationship with the family. There were times when Harvey was ready to give up. He had promised his wife that if after two years, she did not like the life, he would move back to Montgomery. Thanks to the support of the Campbellton farming community, they have been here 42 years.
In the beginning, Harvey raised corn, soybeans, and hogs. In the 1980’s he got into the cattle business, and had a herd until the drought of 2007. In the early 90’s, Harvey made the switch from growing corn to a more drought tolerant crop, cotton. Over the years he has truly come to respect cotton as a crop. Harvey says, “Cotton is like a woman, if you don’t pay it any attention, there won’t be much of a harvest!” He says “if you have moisture, it will respond to management.”
Today, Harvey farms 568 acres of land, of which all but 40 acres belong to someone else. He has a partnership with the Howell Family on the 375 acre Howell Farm, and leases the rest from landowners in the area. Typically he grows cotton for 2-3years and then rotates with one year of peanuts. None of the land he farms is irrigated. At 70 years old he still does all of his own tractor work, only hiring extra labor at harvest time. He is quick to point out that he cannot match the high yields of irrigated farms in the county, but has learned how to consistently average of 900-1000 per acre pounds year after year from his dryland fields. When asked about retirement, Harvey says, “I am waiting for the big hit, that bumper crop I can retire on!”
To the younger farmers Harvey offers this advice, “Farming can be a good life, but you have to stay out of debt.” He made up his mind early on, if he ever had a year when he could not pay his debt that would be his last year farming. He is still farming after 42 years.