By Debra Davis
A diversified Dallas County farm was named the state's 2012 Farm of Distinction during the Alabama Farm-City Awards Luncheon today in Birmingham. At 68, the farm's owner, Sam Givhan, has seen a lot of changes in agriculture at Givhan Land and Cattle Co., but it's his ability to change and adapt that's made his farm successful. His farm expanded from traditional Black Belt crops like cotton and soybeans to catfish and cattle.
"When I was a kid, most of the farming was done with mules," Givhan recalled. "We had a few old tractors that did some ground work, but the plowing and planting and all that -- and the harvesting of cotton -- was done by manual labor and animal power. Over the years, we've finally evolved into trying to do as much no-till farming as we can here. We still do some things the old way, but agriculture in this area has really changed."
As this year's winner, Givhan will represent Alabama in the Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest Oct. 16-18 in Moultrie, Ga. During Monday's awards program, he received a John Deere Gator donated by SunSouth, Snead Ag and TriGreen Equipment dealers in Alabama, plus 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 Givhan's an engraved farm sign, and they also will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo. The Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year will receive $14,000, plus several other prizes.
A Vietnam veteran, Givhan returned to his family farm near Safford in 1969, and by 1972, he was running the operation as president and manager. Today, the farm spans more than 4,500 acres and includes about 2,000 acres of row crops, a 400-cow commercial beef cattle herd and 250 acres of catfish ponds. While Givhan's biggest crop remains soybeans, he said catfish have played an increasingly important role in recent years.
"We've been growing some catfish for about 20-25 years now, but I got serious about it about 15 years ago," Givhan said. "I saw the handwriting that you're either going to have to get to a viable size operation or get out, so we invested and went into it, and it's been one of the better ends of the operation for the last few years. "
Givhan and his wife, Lynne, have two sons involved in the farm. The oldest, Sam, is an attorney, while David manages the beef and hay operations.
Givhan served 26 years as president of the Dallas County Farmers Federation and is a former board member of the Alabama Farmers Federation. He is president of the Central Alabama Farmers Co-op and incoming chairman of the Alabama Farmers Co-op board of directors.
Other Farm of Distinction finalists from around the state also were recognized during the Farm-City awards luncheon, which was held in conjunction with the Alabama Farmers Federation's Women's Conference. The finalists were Donald and Janice Hodge of New Market in Madison County; Paul and Carolyn Beavers of Trafford in Jefferson County and Joe and Faye Williams of Newton in Dale County. Each one of them received a $250 gift certificate from the Alabama Farmers Co-Op and an engraved plaque.