Barry Martin used to do things differently 15 years ago, but now the way he farms his 600 acres in Pulaski County, Ga., has made him Georgia's nominee for the 2012 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award, which will be announced at the Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie, Ga., in October.
The third-generation farmer has farmed most of his life, but in 1970, he was working at a cement plant. His father died at 46. Soon after that, his mother helped him buy his first equipment and get back into the farming business.
From then until the mid-1990s, he farmed like most farmers: conventional tillage all the way. But then, bad weather, bad prices, higher inputs, erosion problems and diseases hit hard. Many local farms didn't make it. Martin knew he had to find a way to stay in business.
With Ronnie Barentine, University of Georgia Extension agent in Pulaski County, Martin started learning how to farm using conservation tillage. And now the system includes rye and crimson clover cover crops. But the Barentine-Martin team continues to tweak his conservation system, which includes building and perfecting his own equipment to get the job done right. One example is his cover-crop roller, which he made using a 16-inch diameter steel well casing that he attached to an old six-row ripper-bedder. Several manufacturing companies have come to look at the equipment Martin has developed.
But, more importantly, many other farmers have learned about Martin's experience, and have found that conservation tillage not only pays in profit but is a sound step in better land stewardship. "Barry is a true leader and innovator in conservation tillage and what he has done in sharing that with others, educating them about it, has a made a big difference to many, not just around here but across the state," Barentine said.