Lee Nunn of Madison, Georgia, planted his first wheat crop on 50 acres of his wife’s family farm when it became available to rent just over a dozen years ago. He quickly realized his passion for farming and began renting more land, now growing wheat, soybeans, field peas, corn and cotton on more than 1,500 acres.
Nunn’s relatively quick success and community involvement have led to him being honored as the 2020 Georgia Farmer of the Year. He’s now in the running for the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition/Swisher Sweets Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He was nominated by Lucy Ray, Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Morgan County.
Nunn grew up visiting and helping at his grandfather’s row crop and dairy farm in his native Morgan County until the farm was sold. Although he has been around agriculture most of his life, it was not a given that he would go into farming, and he doesn’t farm any land his family owned.
“I was very humbled and shocked, but I appreciate the honor — it shows the hard work we farmers do,” said Nunn, who owns related agribusinesses including custom farming services, agricultural construction and a trucking division. “I’ve been thrilled to be able to do it every day. I’m on the farm all day every day, doing what I love.”
An avid believer in using the latest technologies available, Nunn is always open to field research, said Ray, who has collaborated with him on projects including cover crops and thrips control in cotton.
“He definitely will try something new, but he makes sure the research and data back up the decisions he makes,” she said.
Although almost all of his crops are dryland, Nunn is collaborating on UGA Extension’s soil moisture sensor project to optimize irrigation for about 5% of his land.
“Water is the limiting factor, so that’s why we have to be so efficient,” he said. “We have to micromanage every decision. It’s a totally different atmosphere up here than south Georgia.”
Nunn started working with precision agriculture about eight years ago and has progressively increased its use on his land every year. All of his tractors, sprayers and combines are now auto-steer.
“I’m a very big believer in precision guidance. It’s the only way to go. We do yield mapping on the combine. We save on fertilizer by having that system pay for itself,” he said. “It’s a good initial investment but pays in the long run. Even when I talk to some of my friends (who aren’t involved in agriculture) they’re amazed about what the technology can do.”
Some of his notable production achievements include a 30% reduction in pesticide use, a 75% increase in conservation tillage with no-till or minimum-till cropland, and improved soil fertility using local poultry litter.
“We test every batch of litter we buy so we know what we’re getting and we know exactly what we’re putting out,” Nunn said.
“He’s a good example that conservation practices are profitable in the long term and they make sense in today’s production system,” Ray said.
Involved in community
Off the farm, Nunn and his wife Sally have two children, Claire and Mason, and he is very involved in the local agriculture community. He has served as president and treasurer of the Morgan County Farm Bureau and chairman of the local U. S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency board.
He has also participated in the Conservation Stewardship Program offered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and serves on the county’s Extension advisory board.
“He’s got a reputation as someone who can get things accomplished and a really good heart,” said Ray, who helped Nunn jump-start a Morgan County Row Crop Association in 2015. He sought her help in creating a place for quarterly updates similar to other commodity associations.
“We never had something specifically for row crop farmers,” Nunn said. “It’s been a good thing.”
He will compete against nine other state winners this August for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award, which will be announced on Oct. 20 at the Expo.
The University of Georgia contributed this article.