Hall of Honor Inductees

By Year

2024 - Hall of Honor Inductees

Don Ball

Dr. Don Ball is one of the most respected and influential members of the Alabama agriculture community, particularly in the realm of forage production.

A native of Kentucky, he received a B.S. in biology and agriculture from Western Kentucky University in 1968, spent three years in the U.S. Army, and subsequently received an M.S. in 1973 and a Ph.D. in 1976, both in agronomy, from Auburn University.

Ball was hired as Alabama Extension forage crop agronomist in 1976 and had statewide responsibility for forage crop educational programs in Alabama until 2011, a 35-year career. He was awarded the rank of professor in 1988, was named alumni professor in 1997, and is now a professor emeritus.

He was involved in many forage/livestock projects and worked closely with faculty in numerous academic disciplines. He emphasized minimizing negative impacts of the tall fescue endophyte, use of forage legumes, reducing hay storage and feeding losses, and minimizing stored feed needs — all of which are of critical economic importance to forage/livestock production.

Ball has received numerous other awards for his work, including the Superior Service Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Merit and Medallion awards from the American Forage and Grassland Council, fellowship in two scientific professional societies, the Auburn University Extension Excellence Award, the American/World Agriculture Award of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, and the American Society of Agronomy Agronomic Extension Education Award.

He is the author of more than 700 magazine or trade journal articles and 280 “timely information” sheets provided to livestock and forage producers and others across Alabama. He co-authored the book “Southern Forages,” which has been used as a textbook at over 70 colleges and universities, and is still considered the most important practical forage resource after 31 years in publication.

Ball registered the bermudagrass variety ‘Russell’ after documenting its productivity, and today there are 50,000+ acres of this grass in the Southeast. He conducted dozens of on-farm demonstrations, and has been an invited speaker at over 1,500 events.

Ball has been a mentor to many research and extension professionals, helping them succeed in their careers. Even after many years of retirement from Auburn University, producers across the state still mention his immense knowledge of forage crops, his willingness to help them, and the skills he has with regard to relaying his forage passion to others.

His wife, Vonda, passed in 2022. Together they raised two children and greatly enjoyed their five grandchildren. 

Hollis Isbell

When it comes to the development of the Alabama cotton industry, Hollis Isbell has seen it all.

As a quick adopter of new technologies and supporter of scientific and policy advancement, Isbell has contributed most of his 92 years to serving his community and the cotton industry at full force.

One of his biggest contributions and influences was the expansion effort of getting the boll weevil eradication program into the Tennessee Valley, which at the time was one of the final areas to adopt the program. His influence and poised leadership made him one of the key movers in the advancement and success of this program, which many have thought to be one of the most significant advancements in Alabama’s agriculture industry in the last hundred years, not to mention significantly contributing to saving the Southern cotton industry.

He led a progressive style of farming that always pursued practices that would be best for not only his farm and business but his neighbors as well, including being one of the first to invest in irrigation in the Tennessee Valley. This later led to his integral part in establishing two ginning and warehouse operations where he served as president: Farmer’s Home Gin in Leighton, Alabama and Cotton Producer’s Co-Op in Spring Valley, Alabama.

His contributions to the cotton industry gained him national recognition as the 2001 National Cotton Grower of the Year by Cotton Grower’s Magazine as well as The Cotton Producer Recognition award from Southern Cotton Growers in 2012.

It also led him to many leadership positions over the years including Chairman of the American Cotton Producers of the National Cotton Council, Chairman of the Alabama Cotton Commission, Chairman of the Alabama Cotton Committee, and President of the Southern Cotton Growers Association. His leadership and character have been described as passionate, dedicated, and committed, as well as driven, patient, and dependable.

Even as a walking legacy for his community, his family is his proudest achievement. He was the loving husband to his late wife Mittie for 67 years while they raised three children; Neal, Madonna, and the late Richard “Chigger” Isbell. He is the proud grandfather of seven, great-grandfather to 11, and great-great grandfather to one.

Bill Stallworth

Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor2024William ‘Bill’ Stallworth is known for giving back to the agriculture industry and his alma mater in a way that supports future agriculturalists for generations to come.

A native of Beatrice, Alabama, Stallworth’s father owned a grocery and a hardware store, and his mother was a schoolteacher. They operated a small family farm raising cattle and swine and growing corn and cotton. He graduated from high school in Beatrice, where he participated in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. His high school FFA soil judging team won the state contest in 1959, and he had the best score. He credits his FFA faculty advisor Claude Hardee for getting him involved in several projects in Monroe County that kickstarted his love for agriculture.

He decided to go to college at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) after plowing a mule all day for two days on the family farm. He received a scholarship for $300 per year from the Federal Land Bank, New Orleans, which “was a big help” in affording tuition at the time.

An alumnus of the College of Agriculture, Stallworth has given his time and treasure to ensure college students get that same support he received. He has set up student aid scholarships at Auburn as well as at Mobile College in Mobile, Alabama, and at Wingate College in Wingate, North Carolina.

He also helped create the Ag International Program in the Auburn College of Agriculture, which facilitates international studies and travel for Auburn students studying agriculture. He was inspired by his daughter, who spent a semester studying abroad as a student at the University of North Carolina.

An agriculturalist himself, Stallworth was commissioned into the U.S. Navy the day he graduated from Auburn. He served two years, and then worked for Dow Chemical Company for three. He spent about a year with Hoffman LaRoche before he founded The Buffalo Company in 1968 with two friends. The Buffalo Company was a large and successful agricultural brokerage firm known to be a large contributor to the animal and poultry industries across six states in the Southeast.

Despite these accomplishments, Stallworth is best known by friends, colleagues and peers for his generosity. He spends his days managing some acreage in Monroe County for timber and wildlife. He is married to Margaret Lovejoy Stallworth. They have two children, daughter Karol Dyan Hoelscher and son William Stallworth Jr., who is also an ag business alumnus from Auburn.

2023 - Hall of Honor Inductees

Davis Lee

Davis Lee is one of the most influential figures of the Alabama agriculture industry.

Originally from Arapahoe, North Carolina, Lee’s career in the industry is long and illustrious. He has been a mainstay of the Alabama poultry industry ever since he began working for ConAgra Poultry in Decatur, Alabama, in 1977.

His working days started even before that. The son of aircraft mechanic Lytle and his wife Eva, Lee worked in the fields starting at age 8 to earn money for school clothes.

Lee’s first experience with chickens arrived when he was 13. As part of his school’s agricultural project, Lee ordered 150 chicks from Purina. Lee was tasked with overseeing the chickens’ growth and cultivation before they were sold. By the time the chickens were ready to be sold, however, only 52 of them remained; Lee had eaten the rest. His teacher was pleased with his bookkeeping, he says, if not his profit margin.

While in college majoring in business administration, Lee worked for two summers on a commercial fishing trawler out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and worked night shifts at a pork processing plant.

His first job out of college in 1960 was an accounting position at Rose Hill Poultry Company in Rose Hill, North Carolina. In the span of two years, he worked his way up to sales manager. Just a year later, he had increased the sales volume of Rose Hill Poultry by 100%.

Lee served as the president of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association from 1992 until 1993. In 2000, after “retiring” from his 40-year career working in the poultry industry, Lee found the opportunity to start AlaTrade Foods, a processing company that currently debones more than 400 million pounds of chicken a year. He has also started companies specializing in wood pellets and wood pellet burning furnaces for poultry houses.

When it was time to “retire” again in June 2021, Lee decided to thank his workers by converting AlaTrade into an employee-owned business. Today, the Guntersville-based business is one of the largest employee stock ownership plans in Alabama.

Lee has also provided for his community in countless ways. He founded a school to teach English to Hispanic students living in proximity to an AlaTrade Foods location. In 2008, he founded the Liberty Learning Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to facilitating active citizenship and civil work programs for children across the state.

Ray Hilburn

Ray Hilburn is an outstanding leader within Alabama’s poultry industry.

For over 50 years, Hilburn has supported the livelihoods of Alabama residents, families and college students through his longstanding efforts within the industry.

Hilburn’s experience with poultry dates to the early 1950s in Luverne, Alabama. Hilburn grew up with his father on Hilburn and Sons Farms where they raised table eggs. In 1959, the farm became a commercial hatchery, and Hilburn went on to earn his degree in poultry science from Auburn University in 1978.

Following his graduation from Auburn, Hilburn spent three years working at ConAgra Poultry. In 1981, he accepted a position with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries as a poultry programs director. After 30 years of dedicated service, Hilburn retried from ADAI before going straight back to work as associate director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.

Hilburn’s life and career is marked by his selfless devotion to Auburn University and its students in the College of Agriculture. Hilburn has aided Auburn’s agriculture students in numerous ways, including mentoring them for over 10 years in the multifaceted poultry industry. He has raised thousands of dollars in scholarships for students, and even sold smoked chickens to fund a scholarship at Wallace State for poultry science students transferring to Auburn. For over 30 years, Hilburn prepared omelets for graduating College of Agriculture students and families on graduation day.

In 2016, Hilburn received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Crenshaw County Chamber of Commerce for work to improve the quality of life in the county. Hilburn has given educational seminars on poultry science to college students, mentored youth athletic groups, serves on numerous civic and professional boards and is an active member of the Rutledge United Methodist Church.

Hilburn is a valued leader who exemplifies the altruistic desire to give back to one’s community.

Billy Maples

Billy Maples is a born agriculturalist.

The Maples family has operated on the same land since 1818 next to the Elk River in northern Limestone County. Maples has been contributing to the agriculture industry since he returned to the family farm in 1958, where he managed the herd of Angus Cattle that his father purchased in 1948, featuring premier Angus genetics.

He is a graduate of the College of Agriculture at Auburn University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in animal science. He was an early adopter of performance testing and artificial insemination, and he participated in the Auburn University Bull Test for years, having the high-selling bull numerous times.

He raised the next three generations of Maples farmers on the same land in Elkmont, Alabama, where he is still actively farming. Maples is up every morning checking the herd, helping work calves and spending hours on the tractor during hay season.

Maples has been instrumental in the history of many of the agriculture organizations that drive this industry today. He served as the cattle grader for the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association since its inception, served as the Alabama Cattleman’s Association President in 1988 and assisted in starting the Auburn Bull Test and the North Alabama Bull Test. Maples has also served as State Young Farmers Chairman, American Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee and on the Alabama Farmers Federation Board of Directors.

Maples has served the agriculture community on the local level as well. He has served as a member on the county boards of the Limestone County Farmers Federation, Limestone County Cattlemen’s Association, Limestone County Department of Human Resources, and as an elder at First Christian Church.

Maples was recently honored by the American Angus Association as a member of the Angus Heritage Foundation. This award is the culmination of a lifetime’s dedication to agriculture and recognizes his place as a visionary in the industry.

His work has led to not only grow his operation, but the Angus breed as a whole.

BILLY MAPLES is a born agriculturalist.

The Maples family has operated on the same land since 1818 next to the Elk River in northern Limestone County. Maples has been contributing to the agriculture industry since he returned to the family farm in 1958, where he managed the herd of Angus Cattle that his father purchased in 1948, featuring premier Angus genetics.

He is a graduate of the College of Agriculture at Auburn University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in animal science. He was an early adopter of performance testing and artificial insemination, and he participated in the Auburn University Bull Test for years, having the high-selling bull numerous times.

He raised the next three generations of Maples farmers on the same land in Elkmont, Alabama, where he is still actively farming. Maples is up every morning checking the herd, helping work calves and spending hours on the tractor during hay season.

Maples has been instrumental in the history of many of the agriculture organizations that drive this industry today. He served as the cattle grader for the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association since its inception, served as the Alabama Cattleman’s Association President in 1988 and assisted in starting the Auburn Bull Test and the North Alabama Bull Test. Maples has also served as State Young Farmers Chairman, American Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee and on the Alabama Farmers Federation Board of Directors.

Maples has served the agriculture community on the local level as well. He has served as a member on the county boards of the Limestone County Farmers Federation, Limestone County Cattlemen’s Association, Limestone County Department of Human Resources, and as an elder at First Christian Church.

Maples was recently honored by the American Angus Association as a member of the Angus Heritage Foundation. This award is the culmination of a lifetime’s dedication to agriculture and recognizes his place as a visionary in the industry.

His work has led to not only grow his operation, but the Angus breed as a whole.

2022 - Hall of Honor Inductees

Don Green

Don Green’s love for the livestock industry began at an early age. He graduated from Auburn University in 1964 with a B.S. in Animal Husbandry, building on the knowledge and experience he received from working alongside his father in Randolph County, Alabama, buying and trading horses and mules.

While at Auburn, Green participated on the Livestock Judging Team and competed in Chicago for the National Team Title. After graduating from Auburn, he worked for the Farmers Home Administration before returning to the family farm in Roanoke and starting his own livestock auctioning business.

In the early 1970s, Green became a partner in the Roanoke Stockyards, and that is where he has had the largest impact on east Alabama agriculture. Largely through his efforts, the cattlemen and women of the surrounding counties have been provided with a profitable marketplace for their cattle.

Green has worked tirelessly to attract buyers from various companies to travel to Roanoke to purchase their livestock, providing a competitive environment for farmers’ cattle. He also has encouraged farmers to produce higher quality cattle through breeding and nutrition. The availability of a thriving marketplace has helped many farmers remain in business over the years and encouraged young farmers to return to the family farm and continue years of tradition.

Another aspect of the stockyards was a monthly horse sale that provided a marketplace for horsemen and women from near and far to visit and purchase or sell their farm animals. This venue provided not only an economic incentive for local horse enthusiasts but also an avenue for many people to enjoy a favorite hobby. It also led Green to auctioneering quarter horse sales throughout the United States. Today, he is a world-renowned auctioneer in the cutting horse industry, and in 2008 he was awarded the title of “Official Auctioneer” of the National Cutting Horse Association and presented a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017, Green and his wife Linda were honored by the Western Bloodstock at the NCHA sales with a Distinguished Service Award.

Throughout the years, Green has been very supportive of the students who have participated in the 4-H Club Calf Program and the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. He believes that education is power, and he has worked to educate local farmers on how to improve their herds so that they might receive top dollar at the marketplace.

In 1960, Green married his childhood sweetheart Linda Haynes, and they have raised four children on the family farm in the Omaha community—Chad, Cal, Mindy Reynolds and Lynn Pegues. They have eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The two sons and their families are continuing the family farming tradition and the operation of the Roanoke Stockyards.

Earl Norton

Earl Norton was born on Nov. 13, 1937, in Gadsden, Alabama and grew up on a part-time farm in Etowah County. He attended the three-room elementary school at Keener and graduated from Etowah High School.

After receiving a B.S. in Agricultural Science and an M.S. in Agronomy and Soils from Auburn University and spending two years in the U.S. Navy, Norton worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for approximately 35 years as a soil conservationist, contributing significantly to the efforts of the NRCS at the state and national levels.

Norton showed a passion for soil and water conservation since becoming a Soil Conservation Service student trainee in 1957. He progressed rapidly through the ranks of the organization and was selected as State Resource Conservationist for Alabama in 1976. He devoted the remainder of his SCS/NRCS career supporting the conservation of soil, water, and related resources.

His leadership provided technical materials, training, and support to the agency’s field office delivery system that benefitted all Alabama farmers. He also guided the agency’s delivery of the conservation provisions of several farm bills which was critical to the state’s farming community. He provided leadership to the NRCS during the 1980s and 1990s when more than 300,000 acres of highly erodible lands were converted to grass and trees through the Conservation Reserve Program.

Norton served on three NRCS national-level committees that guided agency initiatives and participated in numerous other NRCS activities.

Since his retirement in 1995, Norton has continued to work for the protection of soil and water resources through his involvement with several organizations. His efforts have led to a greater awareness, interest, and implementation of sediment and erosion control on construction sites.

Norton was the primary author of the revised Alabama Handbook for Erosion Control, Sediment Control and Stormwater Management on Construction Sites and Urban Areas, published in 2003. After publishing the handbook, he coordinated seminars throughout Alabama to get it in the hands of engineers, designers, and contractors, insuring that it would be understood and utilized by all who read it. He also has organized field demonstrations of the installation and use of the practices provided in the handbook.

Norton has received several awards throughout his career and service, including the 2005 Soil and Water Conservation Society Fellow Award, the 2020 International Erosion Control Association Outstanding Professional Award, the 2020 EnviroCert International Fellow Award, and numerous Alabama Chapter SWCS Awards and NRCS Certificate of Merit and Outstanding Performance Awards.

Norton and his wife Julia live in Auburn, Alabama, and have a forest in Chambers County. They have two children, Tony and Daniel, and four grandchildren. He continues to practice what he preaches on his forest, involving his sons and grandchildren in conservation and erosion control activities.

William Rankin

For William Rankin, dairy farming is in his blood.

Four generations of the Rankin family over the last eight decades have operated Cedarcrest Farms, an internationally known Jersey farm in northeastern Marengo County.

A.G. Rankin started milking Jersey cows in 1919. As the story goes, his wife Mrs. Rankin pumped water for 16 cows the afternoon before her first son was born. Today, that herd has grown to more than 1,100 cows, and Cedarcrest Farms is considered one of the finest Jersey dairies in the world.

William Rankin is the youngest son of A.G. after brothers Amzi, John and Joe, all of whom share responsibility for the farm’s success.

One of the defining characteristics of Cedarcrest Farms is the use of free-still barns, in which cows can eat and sleep in the shade, but also are able leave at will. The central lane in each barn contains feed, which is provided 18-20 hours of the day.

William has long been responsible for the row crops at Cedarcrest Farms, including 700 acres of corn. He installed drain tiles in the soggy, prairie fields that ensure not one corn crop was missed in more than 25 years on the field where he first installed the drains.

The farm grows about 25 percent of its dry matter feed, including a large supply of Johnsongrass. The feed ingredients are stored in large, covered bins and mixed by weight to produce a balanced ration. The cows are then fed in free-stall barns equipped with vents, misters and a flush system for waste management, which William and his nephew Jim Rankin worked on together.

Sales held at the farm in the ’90s and early 2000s are a testimony to the farm’s reputation and the Rankins’ knack for breeding world-class Jersey cattle. That knack dates back to 1973, when a Jersey named Generators Topsy was selected the U.S. National Grand Champion and the first Jersey cow ever to receive a score of Excellent, 97%. Later she’d be joined by Duncan Belle, who was voted the best cow of all time in the American Jersey Cattle Association’s Great Cow Contest.

But first and foremost, Cedarcrest Farms is a working dairy, and the Rankins also excel at producing milk. The farm manages a rolling herd average of about 13,500 pounds of milk per cow each year.

William’s daughter Annie Williams also shares responsibility for managing Cedarcrest Farms. An alumna of Auburn University, Annie studied in France at the urging of her father and cousin Jim. She visited dairies and cheese plants and brought back a number of ideas for Cedarcrest.

Quote from Annie?” said Annie.


2021 - Hall of Honor Inductees

Bill Gilley

Bill Gilley used his intelligence, his determination and the lessons he learned from his time at Auburn University to prevent the collapse of the poultry industry in the 1960s.

Born and raised on a small farm in Chatom, Alabama, Gilley enrolled at Auburn in the fall of 1960, the first year under the institution’s new name after previously being known as the Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in agricultural education, but his major study emphasis was poultry science. While at Auburn, he was tutored by poultry science legends Dr. Dale King and Dr. Allen Edger, with whom he worked to develop new disease control methods.

Marek’s disease — which causes birds to develop tumors that make them unfit for human consumption — took off in the ‘60s. A vaccine had not yet been developed, and it was common at the time for 50% of the meat from a flock to be condemned at the processing plant due to the disease.

It was discovered that some domesticated turkeys carried a herpes virus in their blood that could protect chickens from Marek’s disease. Gilley worked with Dr. Dwight Bond to develop a complicated procedure that injected this turkey blood into day-old baby chicks. It was 100% effective in protecting his flocks from the disease.

He shared the guidelines with the rest of the industry, and his program became common practice. Two years later, a commercially available vaccine was developed using the same herpes virus found in the turkeys. A form of this vaccine is still used today.

In 1965, Gilley went to work for Red Hat Poultry, later to become Conagra Foods. He worked a year in Auburn to develop an environmental controlled house in which to grow broilers and replacement pullets. Many of the management procedures from it are still used today.

In 1966, he moved to Conagra’s Decatur operation and would eventually manage their commercial layer operation. Finally, he became the bird health director for all Conagra operations in Alabama and Georgia. It was in this role that he made some of his most important contribution to the poultry industry, including addressing not only Marek’s disease, but equally devastating diseases such as Pullorum and Mycoplasma.

In 1972, he moved to Ruston, Louisiana to start a successful new grow out operation for Conagra. Ten years later, the company moved him back to Enterprise, Alabama, where he continued to make contributions to the industry until his retirement in 1995.

During these years, he worked with the Coffee County Extension Service and Auburn Poultry Science Department to develop dead bird disposal using a composting method. This system is still in use today.

Gilley is a graduate of Washington County High School — where he was salutatorian and student body president and where he met his wife of 59 years and counting, Polly.

Ronald H. “Ron” Smith

Ron Smith grew up on a small family farm in Lawrence County, Alabama, at a time when all work was done by hand. He began hand-picking cotton to help his family when he was 5 years old.

Smith received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, a master’s in agronomy and a Ph.D. in entomology, all from Auburn University. He began his career with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in April of 1972 as an Extension cotton entomologist. He retired in December of 2003 after about 31 years of service but has since continued to work under a contract basis.

For 48 seasons, Smith developed applied research and educational programs on insect management and control for Alabama cotton growers. As a result, cotton insect losses and control cost in Alabama are among the lowest in the U.S. Cotton Belt. His career has spanned the evolution of cotton insect management from the boll weevil to stink bugs and control tools from DDT to three-gene cotton varieties.

He influenced the early adoption of new technology and developed scouting techniques and economic treatment thresholds for new pests as they emerged such as the beet and fall armyworm, stink bugs and other sporadic pests. His programs have been proactive as the cotton insect spectrum has evolved over the past five decades.

During his career, the private consultant sector has emerged and many consultants have been trained to assist growers in field insect monitoring. As a professor emeritus of entomology, Smith has been a leading scientist in designing successful insect management programs for Alabama cotton growers and has impacted cotton IPM programs throughout other cotton-producing states. Smith has provided expertise on insect issues with other crops such as soybeans, corn, grain sorghum and peanuts during his career.

Among numerous other honors, Smith was presented the Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management at the 2018 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. He also was awarded the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Duncan Award in 2020 for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Extension.

Smith and his late wife Linda have five children, Melanie, Shane, Meredith, Autumn and Forrest, and 10 grandchildren.

Homer Tate

Homer Tate’s ancestors first settled in Madison County, Alabama, in 1867. Tate grew his first crop in 1946, and in 1948 he started managing the 50 acres farm at age 18, plowing the land with a mule.  From those humble beginnings came a sprawling 8,000-acre operation with cotton as its primary crop but also including corn, wheat and soybeans.

In the early days of the farm, intensive labor was a requirement, with cotton being picked by hand and carried in a huge sack on the back to a cotton trailer for weighing.  Today, a state-of-the-art cotton picker on Tate Farms can pick six rows at a time.

Over the years, with help from his sons, Mike, Steve and Jeff, Tate continued to diversify the farm, introducing irrigation in 1988 to add efficiency to the operation’s crop production.  The farm remains in family hands to this day, including Tate’s sons, Mike, Steve and Jeff, as well as a grandson-in-law, Stewart McGill.

Tate Farms also has expanded over the years to include a widely visited agritourism site, “Cotton Pickin’ Pumpkins,” featuring a pick-your-own 70-acre pumpkin patch with 90 varieties of pumpkins. Tour guides at the attraction not only educate the public about the farm’s history but also teach about agriculture in general.

Though the Tate family strives to preserve the past, they have retrofitted the farm with a 14,000-square-foot covered area. Each fall, about 60,000 people visit Tate Farms. The family also hosts many corporate events.

In 1998, Tate Farms was selected as Alabama’s Farm of Distinction, and in 2009, the farm was recognized as an Alabama Century Farm by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. The farm also was recognized for Agriculture Excellence in Cotton by the Alabama Farm-City Committee.

Tate has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Madison County Farmer Federations Board, Alabama Cotton Commission, National Cotton Council Producer Delegate, USDA Cotton Classing Committee, USDA Cotton Board, USDA FSA Community Committee and Gold Kist Patron Council.

Tate is widely recognized as an honorable man of the highest integrity. He is also a good steward of the land and a true conservationist, recognizing his responsibility as the patriarch of a multi-generational farming family. The fact that so many of his descendants still love living and working on the farm speaks to his leadership abilities.

Tate and his wife, Jeanette, have four sons, Mike, Steve, Mark and Jeff; 11 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren.

2020 - Hall of Honor Inductees

Tommy J. Brown

Tommy J. Brown was born in Hackneyville, Alabama, in 1949, and spent his growing up years on a two-acre farm and working on his neighbor’s beef cattle operations. Through his participation in 4-H and FFA, he developed a love of animal agriculture and an interest in the genetic improvement of beef cattle.

Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Auburn University in 1971 and a master’s degree in agriculture in 1982.

Brown spent 32 years with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System serving the people in Dale and Chilton Counties and the Blackbelt region of Alabama. His efforts in developing and promoting performance and special marketing programs for producers in Chilton County and throughout Alabama greatly improved the quality and value of their beef cattle. Brown conducted a successful 4-H livestock program in Chilton County that allowed many local 4-H members to be rewarded for their efforts in producing top quality animals in all species of livestock.

After retiring from ACES in 2003, Brown served as genetic and marketing director for two large seedstock operations that produced superior bulls for beef producers in the Southeast.

Brown has held numerous leadership positions at agricultural organizations. From 2001-2009, he served on the board of directors for the Beef Improvement Federation, and from 2008-2009, he served as the federation’s president.

Brown also served on the board of trustees for the American Simmental Association from 2005-2011, and spent three of those years as the chairman of the association’s breed improvement committee.

A member of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association since 1967, Brown was recognized as a lifetime director in 2015. In 1985 he received the Richard Deese Award for recognition for his efforts in promoting the Alabama BCIA Program in Alabama.

Brown has been married to his wife, Linda, for 50 years. Together they have two children, Lee and Jill, and three grandchildren.

Val Ivey

Perry County native Val Ivey might have missed his calling in life had he not been so taken by the late-model company cars and generous expense accounts all the farm chemical salesmen he knew enjoyed. And he likely would not have met those individuals had he not started scouting farmers’ cotton fields as a teenager.

Fortunately, those things occurred, leading him into a successful 46-year career as an agricultural chemical company sales representative and manager with a passion for helping growers in Alabama and surrounding states protect their crops and livelihoods.

Ivey grew up on the family farm in the Sprott community and was the youngest of four children. Near the end of his junior year in high school, elder brother Henry, an Auburn University agriculture graduate who worked at and would later become superintendent of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station’s Wiregrass Substation, offered to help him line up work over the summer as a cotton scout. The younger Ivey would spend that and subsequent summers inspecting customers’ crops to identify pests and other conditions that could lower their yields.

In the fall of ’67, he enrolled at Auburn University as an agricultural science major and joined the professional/social agriculture fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho his freshman year. After completing his degree in 1971, he went to work with Ring Around Products Inc. in Prattville as a chemical and seed sales representative before earning a promotion to manager of the company’s Chemical Division.

Ring Around sold to Funk Bros. Seed Co. in the mid-1980s, and he continued there until 1987, when he accepted a technical service position in Montgomery with Terra Chemicals. Terra became Agriliance LLC in 1999 and, in 2011, Agri-AFC. Ivey retired in December 2017 as proprietary products manager.

Through the years, he has been an active member of and effective leader in numerous ag-related organizations, including the Alabama Agribusiness Council, the Alabama Agricultural Chemical Association, the Alabama Seedsmens Association and the Alabama Crop Management Association. He is a Certified Crop Adviser and a Certified Professional Agronomist.

One of Ivey’s greatest strengths has been his ability to captivate and inspire audiences using a blend of knowledge, wisdom and humor. He has had a significant impact on production agriculture through training both industry representatives and growers.

He married wife Saundra in 1989 after a whirlwind romance that began when they sat beside each other on a flight from Montgomery to Atlanta. The couple moved from Montgomery to Birmingham in 2018. In retirement, they enjoy spending time at their place on Lake Eufaula and at the 40-acre Marion County farm she purchased a few years ago.

The Iveys have three sons, a daughter and seven grandchildren.

W. Gaines Smith

Gaines Smith is a native of Autauga County, where he grew up on a small diversified farm in the Evergreen community near Independence. He attended Auburn University where he earned a B.S. degree in animal science, an M.Ag. degree in Agricultural Business/Production and an Ed.D. in education administration/public administration.

Smith retired as executive director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in 2011 after serving for three years as interim director and 10 years as director. During his 45-year career with Extension, he came up through the ranks having garnered experience at the county, district and state levels. He served on numerous councils, boards, and committees, including the board of directors for the Longleaf Alliance, board of trustees of the national and state 4-H program and was the Extension representative to the State Soil & Water Conservation Committee.

Soon after his retirement, the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation named its new science education building after Smith, who was instrumental in seeing the project to fruition, not only through his leadership and skills but sometimes through donations from his own pocket. The facility was the first gold-certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design education building in the Eastern United States.

Following his retirement, Smith continued to support conservation activities and volunteered with many organizations, councils, associations and schools. He has always offered his time and expertise to assist others in understanding why it is important to conserve natural resources and increase self-sufficiency. Smith serves as supervisor of the Autauga County Soil and Water Conservation District, a member of the Autauga County Master Gardener’s Association and a director of the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation. He is also co-trustee/co-manager of the Overstreet Smith Trust in Autauga County.

Smith is co-owner and co-manager of Evergreen Hills Forest in Autauga County where he and his family own more than 1,200 acres of forestland, which is a Certified Tree Farm, TREASURE forest and is Stewardship Certified. He, his wife Joan and other family members have worked tirelessly to insure the land is maintained using accepted practices such as thinning, burning and firebreaks and harvesting and replanting.

He is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from both the Alabama Association of County Agricultural Agents and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. He also received the Ruby Distinguished Service Award from the National Epsilon Sigma Phi. This is the most prestigious recognition presented by ESP and is designed to recognize truly outstanding thinking, performance and leadership in Extension.

Smith and his wife spend time at their homes in Auburn and in Autauga County. They have a daughter, Heather Smith Medeiros, three sons, Kevin Harper, Jaison Smith, Collin Smith, and four grandchildren.

2019 - Hall of Honor Inductees

K. Ben Gore

Ben Gore was born on a small cattle farm in Albertville, Alabama, in 1952. He still lives on and operates the farm today. His interests in cattle and farming led to his early involvement in programs such as 4-H and FFA and later to his pursuit of a business career that would benefit farming families and communities.

He earned an accounting degree from Auburn University in 1974 and quickly went to work in a loan officer training program with First Alabama Bank. In 1976, he joined Alabama Farm Credit at its Albertville office, where he served for 32 years, including 22 years as branch manager. Under his leadership, the Albertville branch grew from $20 million to $200 million in assets as it helped finance and grow the poultry industry in North Alabama.

Gore was named CEO of Alabama Farm Credit in 2009. As CEO, the Alabama Farm Credit team more than doubled in staff and grew from $400 million to more than $800 million in assets. He retired in 2018 after 42 years with the bank. Gore says his career was rewarding because of the ways in which it enabled him to help farming families expand and grow their operations.

In addition to his career in banking for the agricultural industry of Alabama, Gore has served his community through organizations such as the Sand Mountain Civitan Club, where he was a member and past president for 25 years. He is also a board member and past president of the Cecil Wright Tutoring Center, an after-school program for middle-school-aged children in Albertville; and he is a board member of the Douglas Water Authority, a rural water system in northeast Alabama. He is also a 40-year member of Albertville First Baptist Church.

He currently serves the agricultural industry at the state level through his role as president of the Alabama Agribusiness Council and as a board member of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.

Gore and his wife of 30 years, Becky, have four children and eight grandchildren.

John W. Jensen

John Jensen has led a 40-year career dedicated to improving lives through the development of aquaculture in communities around the world.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife management from the University of Minnesota in 1969, Jensen served as a Peace Corp volunteer in Brazil, where he helped fishermen develop a fish marketing cooperative that would lift many out of poverty. In 1972, he joined the Auburn University staff as a research associate working to build a Brazilian aquaculture industry. The work he and his colleagues conducted in Brazil ultimately led to the development of tilapia as a commercially grown fish.

Jensen returned to Auburn in 1975 and, in 1979, was appointed fisheries extension specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. His work in this role led to the founding of the Alabama Fish Farming Center and the Alabama Catfish Quality Assurance Program. He was named head of Auburn’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures in 1995 and then interim dean of the College of Agriculture and interim director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station in 2001. He served in the latter role until 2004. Through his leadership in each of these positions, Auburn’s fisheries and aquaculture program was named a Peak of Excellence in 2002.

Following his time as interim dean and director, he served as Auburn’s special assistant to the president for agriculture from 2004 to 2005. Upon his retirement in 2007, he was named professor emeritus and visiting scholar. He returned to Auburn from 2013 to 2015 to serve as interim director of his former department, which had been renamed the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

Throughout his career and in retirement, Jensen has loved challenges. In 2012, he completed his hike of the Appalachian Trail. Also in retirement, he has continued to travel frequently to Brazil and has helped establish an aquaponics system in Honduras to produce fish and vegetables for more than 500 orphans. Jensen also serves on the executive board for the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, Georgia.

Jensen and his wife, Marianne, have four children and six grandchildren. They reside in Auburn.

Dan Smalley

DAN SMALLEY is a lifelong resident of Arab, Alabama, and a retired poultry farmer who for decades was a leader in and advocate for the state’s poultry industry.

He grew up working on his father’s cattle, poultry and hog farm, and in 1973, after graduating with a B.S. degree in marketing and finance from Samford University, he returned to his hometown to manage that enterprise. Two years later, he and his young bride, Mary Nell, ventured into the poultry business on their own with Red Hill Farms in Arab and went on to build that into what, at one time, was the largest broiler farm in Alabama, with 16 houses at its peak.

A contract poultry grower with Gold Kist, Smalley was appointed to that corporation’s board in 1985 and, in 2000, was named chairman of the board. He served on the board until 2004, when Gold Kist sold to Pilgrim’s Pride. During those years, he frequently spoke across the U.S. as an ambassador for poultry and for agriculture.

In April 2011, Smalley lost nine of his poultry houses and more than 100,000 birds to tornadoes. He sold the poultry operation four years later but retained and still manages the farm’s timber stand. He also operates Smalley Development Co., a real estate development entity he established in 1988.

For many years, he was on the boards of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the Marshall County Farmers Federation and held terms as president of both. He was a Gov. Guy Hunt appointee to the Alabama Board of Agriculture and Industries, was president of the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation and the Alabama Agribusiness Council and was the first active farmer to chair the Chicago-based nonprofit Farm Foundation.

He is a graduate of both Leadership Alabama and the Alabama Agriculture and Forestry LEADERS program and was active in several other organizations related to agriculture, renewable energy, natural resources and the environment. Honors included being named to Business Alabama magazine’s first class of “Rising Stars under 40,” winning the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Outstanding Young Farmer Award in the poultry division and being inducted to the Alabama 4-H Wall of Fame.

He has been highly involved in his community, serving as president of the Arab Chamber of Commerce, the Marshall County Economic Development Council, the Kiwanis Club and the Foundation for Marshall Medical Centers. He is a former member of the Alabama Air National Guard.

He and his wife have been married since 1972 and are active members of Arab First Baptist Church. They have two grown children, Jeremy and Dana, and one grandson, James Camp.

Note *deceased.


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