Missouri farmers are quiet, humble heroes who provide the nation with food, fuel and fiber, yet rarely boast about their accomplishments or the responsibility they’ve taken on as their life’s work. They’ve contributed to advancements in agriculture that are important for both Missouri and the nation.
To honor these hardworking farmers, the Missouri Department of Agriculture implemented the Missouri Agriculture Awards, recognizing those who give back, act as good stewards of the land and lead by example. The awards were presented at the Governor’s Conference on Agriculture in December.
Take Ronnie Berry, a rice farmer for more than 40 years, now operating in Neelyville. He began adopting practices early in his career that not only protected the land, but also benefited the state’s economy, including reducing water usage as well as designing and building more efficient farm equipment. Berry was one of last year’s winners, earning the honor of the 2014 Missouri Rice Legacy Award.
“I was driving for business when they called me. I was shocked,” Berry says of winning the award. “I am so grateful, but at the same time, feel there are a lot more deserving people. But I appreciate the honor greatly and have always felt we must take care of the land.”
Berry comes from a family of farmers – his grandfather was a rice farmer, and his father raised cotton. He and his brother joined the family business in the early 1970s. Since then, Berry has been instrumental in positive environmental farming practices. He began practicing no-till farming in the early 1980s and firmly believes that the land should be worked as little as possible. Most of his current farming equipment is on rubber tracks to help protect the land.
“You should keep the ground as level as possible. That way, in a wet season, you can focus on timely planting instead of working the soil,” he says.
This innovative way of thinking made Berry the perfect choice for the legacy award.
David Blakemore of Campbell, who owns and manages B&B Cotton Co. and Sunnyside Grain Co., received the 2014 Missouri Cotton Legacy Award.
Director of Agriculture Richard Fordyce says that Missouri consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally for cotton because of producers like Blakemore.
Blakemore’s involvement in agriculture speaks for itself. He has served on the Board of Directors for Cotton Inc., and now serves on the board of the National Cotton Council. He was named “Ginner of the Year” in 2010 by the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and helped implement the boll weevil eradication program in Missouri.
Blakemore found out that he won a 2014 Missouri Agriculture Award a few weeks before the Governor’s Conference.
“I was reminded of a quote from a friend of mine who received an award a few years ago,” he says. “His words were, ‘I thank you, there are others who deserve it more, but I’m not going to give it back.’”
Blakemore adds that he’s extremely proud of the award.
“We still try to do the best we can as far as preserving a unique way of life,” he says. “We, as a community of cotton growers, are proud of what we’ve done because we did it for the right reasons. Maybe – because nothing is ever sure in farming – with a little luck or divine providence, we can hand everything off to the next generation intact, and then sit back and see what they can do.”