Being lauded as farmer of the year a ‘humbling’ experience for Isbell
ROCKVILLE, Va. — A third-generation Hanover County farmer has been named the Sunbelt Ag Expo’s Virginia Farmer of the Year.
Charles Edwin “C.J.” Isbell, 34 and the youngest Virginian to earn the title, practices agriculture so precisely that he samples the soil every acre to 2.5 acres and applies to each segment the appropriate fertilizer at the appropriate level.
“The whole experience has been humbling for me,” Isbell, a married father of two, said. “To be nominated in and of itself is an honor.
“But I’m standing on the shoulders of giants: my father and my grandfather.”
The Sunbelt Ag Expo each year recognizes state-level farmers like Isbell for commitment to excellence in the industry, efficiency in farming practices, service participation and leadership, sound environmental, marketing, management and financial practices and plans for future development and change.
Isbell and his father, Ed, run a 340-acre, natural meats and specialty grains farm north of the James River between Charlottesville and Richmond.
His grandfather, Joe, founded the farm in 1951 with hen layers, adjusted to a 1980s decline in the hog market by switching to cattle and retired from a cattle, hay and commodity grain farm in the 1990s, according to its website.
Isbell, a firefighter, dreamed of creating a viable family farm, so he studied and explored agricultural methods, the Sunbelt Ag Expo release said.
He developed a business plan with his then-construction worker father and, with one heifer and $250, began transforming the grain farm into pasture for a natural meat operation.
Isbell, since partnering with his father in 2008, has come to specialize in grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, free range poultry, turkey, eggs and specialty non-GMO grains.
The farm website claims that a core farm value is protecting the environment and reports that customers provide favorable feedback about the positive difference that eating healthy foods that exceed organic standards has made in their lives.
The Isbell family, for a lack of seed cleaners and available grain processing, installed their own capacity for cleaning, the farm web site states.
Isbell in addition to grid sampling and variable rate fertilizing keeps surrounding waters free of farm pollutants with help from exclusion fencing at twice the minimum buffer.
He practice intense rotations of at least every three days in order to prevent runoff from accumulating.
Isbell is an alum of the inaugural class of Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results.
He has volunteered for 4-H and served as host and speaker at Hanover Caroline Soil & Water Conservation District outreach and field day events.
Virginia Cooperative Extension Agents Laura Maxey-Nay in Hanover County and Rachel Henley in Powhatan County nominated Isbell for Virginia Farmer of the Year.
“The farm uses innovative practices to stand out in both the farming and business worlds,” Maxey-Nay said. “CJ goes above and beyond to share his experiences and techniques with anyone who asks to help the agricultural community nationwide.”
Virginia Cooperative Extension Economy, Community and Food Associate Director Daniel L. Goerlich served on the state-level selection committee and traveled to Isbell’s farm to meet the nominators and present Isbell a plaque.
Isbell in addition to the plaque wins $2,500 cash, a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States Cooperative, $500 from Syngenta for his charity of choice, a Massey Ferguson gift package, a Columbia vest from Joey’s Outdoor and Farm supply and an expense-paid trip to the 2021 Sunbelt Ag Expo from Swisher International in Moultrie, Ga.
There, he’ll vie against nine other competitors from North Carolina to Florida for Southeastern Farmer of the Year.
The Southeastern Farmer of the Year title is currently held by fourth generation Halifax County farmer and cattleman Michael H. McDowell, who was the second Virginian since 2013 to win the competition.
Only South Carolina has earned as much Southeastern Farmer of the Year representation during that time.
“From my experience with this program, the people who are farmers of the year are great contenders,” Isbell said. “Any one of us would make a very good Southeastern Farmer of the Year. For me being so young, I’m kind of optimistic in that.”
If Isbell wins, he’ll be presented $15,000 from Swisher International, use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours, whichever comes first, a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation, a Hays LTI smoker/grill and more.
The Southeast Ag Expo is held each October and was canceled for 2020 due to COVID-19.
The event emphasizes information, education and implementation of the latest agricultural technology, research and equipment.
Since Farmer of the Year was initiated in 1990, Swisher International has contributed some $1.2 million in cash awards and other honors to Southeastern farmers, Sunbelt Ag Expo Executive Director Chip Blalock noted.
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