Watkins captures Farm Family of the Year award


For Jonathan Watkins, capturing the 2017 Farm Family of the Year award is a “dream come true.” Presented since 1962, the accolade recognizes “family farms” and their owners’ contributions to the local agricultural industry.

“Excitement was my immediate reaction to learning that my family was receiving the Farm Family award,” said Watkins, who shares this honor with his wife, Jessica. “It is a huge honor to receive this award because I look up to so many of the other farm families in our area. I am very fortunate to live in a community with so many successful mentors in the agricultural industry.

“It is a dream come true to be acknowledged for the hard work and passion we have for farming. Joining this group of farm families gives us that much more motivation to continue reaching our goals in agriculture.”

Now 33, the Cassville resident graduated from Cartersville High School in 2004 and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in 2008. Carrying on his father’s farming legacy, Watkins currently owns Watkins Farms, which spans more than 80 acres on Cass-White Road in Cartersville.

“I have lived and worked on this farm my entire life,” Watkins said. “When I was a child, we were primarily a horse farm with just a few head of cattle. I’ve always had a passion for horses, cattle and farming in general. I knew when I returned home from college that I wanted to begin taking our farming to the next level. I don’t look at farming as a career, it’s a lifestyle.

“Watkins Farms was started by my father, Mack Watkins, when he bought the original homeplace in 1973. In the beginning years, we delved in the quarter horse breeding world, hosted consignment auctions, farmed hay and raised cattle. We currently run a successful horse boarding facility and farm an average of 300 acres of hay every year. The cattle farming has more than tripled over the years as we continue to grow in our love for bovine. This year, our new production herd that we are currently working on is exceeding our genetic expectations. The weather this year has been in our favor compared to years in the past. We have stayed ahead of schedule with completing our first hay cutting and are already starting on our second cut.”

Featuring 150 brood cows, Watkins’ enterprise spans about 450 acres, 300 of which he and his family own in Bartow and Gordon counties. Along with his horse-boarding service at Watkins Farms, he produces about 2,000 round bales of hay each season.

“Every day is a different day,” Watkins said. “I always tell my wife that we can never successfully plan a day of work on the farm. You never know what equipment will break, water line [will] bust or what fence will fail. If I’m not shoeing horses and traveling to other farms, I am counting cattle and checking fences. During the summer months, the majority of our days are spent in the hayfield and making sure our animals are fed and watered.

“There are many things I enjoy about being in the agricultural community, but the thing I love most is being able to work with my hands every day to provide for my family. My father started his dream of farming, and now I am achieving it. I am also carrying on a long legacy of farm families through my mother’s side. The Vaughan and Collins families have been farming these lands for centuries, and it is an honor to be a part of that legacy. … I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. It isn’t easy and the days are long, but I am always thankful for what I have.”

Calling his son a hard worker, Watkins’ father is thrilled to see him follow in his footsteps, professionally. 

“It means a lot to me,” Mack Watkins said, referring to his son working now in his career field. “It makes me feel very good. He went to school in Tifton to ABAC. He enjoys what he does but he works seven days a week. He stays busy all the time. He’s done a great job since he’s got out of college and came back to the farm.”

Held at the Olin Tatum Agricultural Building in Cartersville last month, the Bartow County Farm Family Banquet was sponsored by AgGeorgia Farm Credit and Carroll Fertilizer LLC in cooperation with the Bartow County Farm Bureau and Bartow County Extension Service.

“In 1962, the Bartow County Farm Bureau collaborated with the Bartow County Extension office to start a tradition of awarding a Farm Family of the Year award during its annual banquet,” Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese said. “The Extension office facilitates the award nomination process and Farm Bureau hosts the annual banquet. The three most recent farm family recipients are tasked with selecting the next year’s award recipient and this tradition continues today.

“The first Farm Family award was given to Bill Raines in 1962, followed by Dick Harris in 1963 and Lamar Wade in 1964. A quick glance at this list of farm families reveals many influential farmers and past-presidents of the Bartow County Farm Bureau chapter that have helped keep this organization growing through the years. All areas of local agriculture are considered for the award, including — but not limited to — poultry, beef, equine, row crops, timber, horticultural crops, turfgrass, etc.”

As Pugliese noted, this year’s Farm Family was selected by the award’s past three recipients — the families of Lee Neel, Robby Simmons and Lee Sutton.

“This award is a great way to acknowledge those hard working families that contribute to our local agriculture industry,” Pugliese said. “In many ways, farmers are the unsung heroes that feed our growing world population. The public often does not get a chance to connect their food at the grocery store with a local farmer or farm family.

“Most U.S. farms, about 97 percent, are family operations according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Families mostly run even the largest farms and about half of the nation’s farmland is still in small farms. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, Bartow County still has about 450 farming operations with an annual market value of over $95 million.”

Along with the Farm Family accolade, other awards that were presented during the annual banquet included Friend of Agriculture, Lance Boyce; 4-H Excellence in Agriculture — Benjamin Craven and Kara Turner; Family & Consumer Science, Sierra Slygh; and Outstanding Future Farmer of America, Payton Franklin.

One of the annual Farm Family Banquet’s most prestigious awards is the Farm Family accolade. Since 1962, the honor has recognized families who have made significant contributions to Bartow’s agricultural community. The recipients include:

• 1962 Bill Raines

• 1963 Dick Harris

• 1964 Lamar Wade

• 1965 J.A. Shropshire

• 1966 Charles Garrison

• 1967 Weldon Thacker

• 1968 Alvin Richards

• 1969 W.L. Littlefield

• 1970 Hansel Thacker

• 1971 S.U. Buddy Tatum

• 1972 John V. Bishop

• 1973 Carl Pinson

• 1974 George Cagle

• 1975 Wiley Vaughan

• 1976 T.H. Black

• 1977 Brady Moss

• 1978 J.G. Brandon Jr.

• 1979 Bobby Maxwell

• 1980 John Upshaw

• 1981 Billy Cox

• 1982 Robert Cobb

• 1983 Jim Raines

• 1984 Perry Boss

• 1985 Alton Wright

• 1986 Smith Farms

• 1987 Dean Bagwell

• 1988 Jack Nally

• 1989 Allen Evans

• 1990 Steve Southern

• 1991 Ronnie Sutton

• 1992 Chuck Garrison

• 1993 Larry Richards

• 1994 George Lanier

• 1995 Don Jackson

• 1996 Gary Blalock

• 1997 Lewis Cobb

• 1998 Jerry Wright

• 1999 Harry Pugliese

• 2000 Charles Croft

• 2001 William Smith

• 2002 Brent Nelson

• 2003 Michael Bramlett

• 2004 Brian Adcock

• 2005 Payson Fields

• 2006 Donnie Mealer

• 2007 Steve Worthington

• 2008 Talmadge Hollaran

• 2009 Mark Floyd

• 2010 Jacob Jones

• 2011 Cliff Martin

• 2012 Alan Matthews

• 2013 Darrell Kay

• 2014 Lee Neel

• 2015 Robby Simmons

• 2016 Lee Sutton

• 2017 Jonathan Watkins