The man who almost wasn't a farmer on Tuesday became the Southeastern Farmer of the Year, winning the award from a field of 10 farmers of the year representing 10 states.
William "Bill" Cameron Jr., who tried life as a football coach before coming back to the farm, was named the 18th Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year during the Willie B. Withers Luncheon at the Moultrie, Ga., exposition on Tuesday.
Cameron was chosen from a field of 10 candidates representing Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year William "Bill" Cameron Jr. and his wife Rhenda are joined by granddaughter Rebecca Brock to receive the $14,000 award check from J. Thomas Ryan, president of award sponsor Swisher International Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla. (right) and Sunbelt Executive Director Chip Blalock (left).
As Southeastern Farmer of the Year, Cameron receives a $14,000 cash award and the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America.
It's an honor no farmer properly prepares for, 2006 Southeastern Farmer of the Year Bob Willis warned the 10 candidates at the Farm Progress/Swisher Sweets Southeastern Farmer of the Year Dinner in Valdosta the night before. Willis and his wife packed their suitcases the night before he won the regional honor.
"You never know what's going to happen," Willis said.
Cameron didn't listen.
"Bob warned us," Cameron said shortly after winning. "I'm not prepared. I had no idea."
His first thought was to honor his wife of 42 years, Rhenda Cameron, and his family for their "enormous" support.
The former football coach noted he is neither the biggest farmer nor the smallest, but he tried to operate by what he told his former football teams: look ahead and work hard. "You've got to take what you have and make the best of it," Cameron said. "That's all I know."
Cameron's 860-acre operation in Raeford includes corn, soybeans, a variety of small grains as well as cattle and swine operations.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo sponsored the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award for the 18th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed over $740,000 in cash awards and other honors since the award was initiated in 1990.
As finalists for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award for 2007 the 10 state finalists each received a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International.
During the Farm Progress/Southeastern Farmer of the Year dinner each state winner was given a jacket and a $200 gift certificate from the Williamson Dickie Company, a commemorative fireproof home safe from Misty Morn Safe Co. and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States.
Steve Patterson, vice-president corporate marketing and communications, Southern States Cooperative and a FOY program sponsor, noted that all of the farmers nominated for the award run exemplary family farms.
"You're all leaders," Patterson said.
"You are the best of the best," luncheon emcee Jimmie Hill, president of The Hill Group, said.