Pioneer Award Honorees

By Year

2020 - Pioneer Award Honorees

Ralph Lovelady

Ralph Gilbert Lovelady was a true pioneer in Alabama cattle production. By paying close attention to genetics, forage production and keeping meticulous records, he developed one of the state’s top commercial cattle herds in the rolling hills of Chilton County.

Born and raised on a two-mule, 80-acre farm on the west edge of Chilton County on Feb. 21. 1921, Lovelady—who served in the United States Air Force—started his cattle operation in 1949 with eight Angus-Holstein cows and a Hereford bull. In the 1950s, cattle, hay and row crops provided income, but since the mid-1960s, cattle were and continue to be the sole source of revenue for the farm.

Lovelady hosted numerous tours of cattle producers from throughout the Southeast to his farm, eagerly sharing how he achieved top performance. He also received numerous awards for top-producing cows, and his farming operation has been profiled in numerous farming magazines and newspaper articles.

Lovelady farmed on the southern part of the Upper Coastal Plains on soils that ran the gamut from sand and gravel to heavy clay, usually suitable only for forages and trees. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, his two sons left for college and entered business, leaving him and his wife Myrtle as the sole labor force running a 200-brood cow operation. When Lovelady experienced health issues in 1988, his son Butch returned to the farm and helped to expand it.

Lovelady Farms focused on producing and marketing “predictable beef cattle,” meaning that the main goal of the breeding program was to produce a potential brood cow. The heifer was expected to calve as a 2-year-old and have the potential to wean a 700-pound calf each year. Steer calves were a by-product of the breeding program, but they had to meet the industry needs to bring top prices at sale time. The nutritional program was built around forage, with bermuda, bahia and dallis grass in the summer, overseeded in the fall with arrowleaf and clover. Lovelady began keeping individual performance records through the BCIA in 1981.

He was a tireless worker for Alabama’s cattle industry, becoming a charter member of the Bibb County Cattlemen’s Association in 1954 and later becoming its president. He also served as president and director of the Chilton County Cattlemen’s Association, regional vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and president of the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association.

Lovelady was a deacon and a Sunday school teacher at Randolph Baptist Church. He died on Oct. 1, 1998. He and his late wife Myrtle are survived by two sons, Butch and Milton, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Richard True

Richard Dale True was a national pioneer in the catfish industry. Already in charge of dairy and cotton operations, True worked with business partners C.O. Stephens and Bryant Allen to start the country’s first commercial catfish hatchery, STRAL Company, in 1961. What began as a part-time enterprise soon developed into a full-time career.

By 1964, True was traveling to the Mississippi Delta to train other row-crop farmers in raising catfish. In November 1966, he and business partner Joe Glover Sr. started STRAL Processing, the country’s first commercial catfish processing company. After the company’s launch, True and his colleagues quickly adapted and developed new technologies to create a faster, more efficient processing system, which enabled the industry to grow more quickly.

STRAL Processing opened a new plant in Greensboro, Alabama, in 1968, with True as its first plant manager. The plant was sold to ConAgra Foods in 1969, and True moved to Mississippi to manage three more processing plants. He returned to Greensboro in 1975 to manage Country Fresh Processing. True retired in 1980. In the years since, his innovations have led to a national industry that now processes more than 330 million pounds of catfish annually.

In addition to his work as an entrepreneur and processing innovator, True was a member of the Citizens Bank board of directors, an elder at the Newbern Presbyterian Church, a member of the American Legion and Greensboro Rotary Club, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a loyal supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. He attended Auburn University from 1949 to 1951.

True passed away in 2008. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Stella Byars. He is survived by his wife, Charlotte Stewart True; daughter, Frances True Sullivan; son, Todd Dale True, and stepsons, Rodney James and Joel James.

2019 - Pioneer Award Honorees

William I. Ethridge Jr.

WILLIAM I. ETHRIDGE JR.’S love of farming began at age 9, when his family moved from the city to a farm southwest of Bessemer, Alabama. His father had a few cows, fostering his interest in dairy cattle.

In 1941, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor prompted the high school graduate to enlist in the U.S. Navy, where he served the majority of his time as a radio operator stationed in Brazil. Following his military service, he attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute on the GI Bill, majoring in agriculture science. He graduated in 1948 and started Ethridge Dairy Farm in Jefferson County that same year, using money he had saved working at a Pullman-Standard railroad-car manufacturing plant with his father and two brothers and milking cows at his father’s farm.

Throughout his life, Ethridge was an avid advocate for Alabama agriculture, especially the dairy industry, and held many leadership roles. He was Jefferson County Farmers Federation president for 38 years, from 1961 to 1999, during which time the organization grew from 3,378 members to 12,125.

He also served on the Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Board of Directors and was one of the leaders in the formation of Associated Milk Producers, an organization that helped dairy farmers get better prices for their milk.

An innovator, Ethridge traveled to Chicago for training in artificial insemination in cattle and became the first producer in his county to implement the technology in dairy cattle. He went on to breed cows for Alabama dairy farms.

A man known for his sense of humor, Ethridge was often invited to speak at agricultural events and to schools and other groups. His trademark joke was a tongue twister about a snake named Petey “hissing in the pit.”

In the late 1970s, he sold his dairy herd with plans to retire, but he couldn’t quit being a farmer that easily, so he bought and raised beef cattle for close to 20 years. After retiring from the cattle business, he continued to produce hay on his 135-acre farm.

He and his wife, Coty, married in 1959 and had one daughter, Carolyn. She and her husband, Don Baker, have two daughters.

Ethridge passed away in 2009 at age 88.

Roy N. Hereford Jr.

ROY N. HEREFORD JR.  was a New Hope, Alabama, native whose family relocated to Faunsdale in 1949 when he was 14 years old. He credited growing up on the farms in Madison and Marengo counties for establishing his love of the agricultural industry.

Hereford graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry. As a student, he served as business manager for the API yearbook and vice president of the College of Agriculture’s student council and was a member of the livestock judging team and Sigma Nu fraternity. Also during his time at API, he worked toward his commission in the Army as second lieutenant and, after graduating, served six months of active duty at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He then returned to the family farm in Faunsdale, fulfilling his military obligations with the 156th Battalion headquartered in Linden.

Throughout his career, he was active in several agriculture-related organizations, serving as president of the Marengo County Cattleman’s Association, a charter member of the Marengo County Farm Bureau and organizer of the county’s 4-H–FFA steer show. His honors included being named an Outstanding Young Farmer by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Demopolis in “recognition of exceptional progress in agriculture and contributions to the community.”

His true passion was auctioneering, primarily at livestock and farm equipment sales. One of his most exciting moments was the selling of an Angus bull at Auburn University for $320,000.

In an effort to improve public perception of the auction business, he established a statewide association to hold auctioneers accountable for their professional conduct and to discipline individuals guilty of conducting business unethically. For his leadership, the Alabama State Board of Auctioneers posthumously honored him in 1987 for his outstanding service as a member and officer.

Hereford’s peers in the agricultural industry say he was charismatic, humble, knowledgeable of agriculture, and was successful in spreading that knowledge to others.

He and his wife, Judy, had four children—Leanne, Trey, Rachel and Samantha—and five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

In 1986, Hereford was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away two years later. He was 52.

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