Cunningham Farmer of the Year

Calloway County farmer Danny Cunningham has much about which to smile these days after being named Kentucky Farmer of the Year for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo honor.

CALLOWAY COUNTY  — Lifelong Calloway County farmer Danny Cunningham has been named the Kentucky’s winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award.

Cunningham was nominated Kentucky Farmer of the Year by Don Overbey, co-owner of Overbey Farms of Murray, Kentucky and, at the time of Cunningham’s nomination, president of the Calloway County Farm Bureau Federation Board. He says, “Danny is an outstanding farmer and person. A dedicated family man, he has always stayed strong in his Christian faith. As with all farmers, he has had years that weren’t as good as others, but he always came through with a smile and a positive attitude.”

 As the Kentucky winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Cunningham will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida, a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply. Cunningham is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner. 

Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a tractor for a year from MF Product, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI, and a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute edition 22 rifle from Reinke Manufacturing Co., Inc., the irrigation company, through their partnership with Henry Repeating Arms.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 30th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,120,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Kentucky farmers became eligible to compete for the Farmer of the Year award in 2006. Previous state winners from Kentucky include Sam Moore of Morgantown, 2006; Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek, 2007; Loretta Lyons of Tompkinsville, 2008; Doug Langley of Shelbyville, 2009; Joe Nichols of Cadiz, 2010; Jim Sidebottom of Greensburg, 2012; Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek, 2013; Ray Allan Mackey of Elizabethtown, 2014; Jack Trumbo of Simpsonville, 2015; Keith Lowry of Water Valley, 2016; and Mike Batch of Owingsville, 2017; Darren Luttrell of Beaver Dam, 2018.

Danny Cunningham grew up on a 60-acre dairy farm in Calloway County.

 At 13, he learned to drive an old pickup truck to school on back roads because his dad figured that by letting him drive, he could get home at least an hour earlier than if he took the bus. And that hour could be spent on farm chores. 

 Tasked with a lot of the milking, Cunningham wasn’t thrilled about that part of agricultural life. He recalls, “I loved working the land, so I started renting ground for row cropping and growing tobacco. I bought my first farm in 1964 and built our family farm house in 1967. My wife, Judy, was my number-one hand on the farm. She could do anything I could do—drive tractors, combines, and grain trucks—while doing a wonderful job of raising our three daughters.” 

 The Cunningham girls were active in 4-H, softball, church, and school-related activities and automatically helped with farm chores. Judy, who passed away in 2016, had been a member of the Calloway County Farm Bureau, a 4-H leader, a Girl Scout leader, a Sunday school teacher, and a member of the Calloway County Homemaker Group. 

 Family has always been the heart and soul of this enterprise. 

Oldest daughter, Deana Cunningham Chadwick, maintains the farming books. She is the bookkeeper, payroll manager, and the purchasing and accounts payable manager. She also weighs the trucks and completes the receipts. Her husband, Ricky Chadwick, works full-time on the farm, driving tractors and trucks. 

Middle daughter, Dana Cunningham Martin, works with marketing and publicity for the farm. Her husband, Terry Martin, is the regional sales manager at H&R Agri-Power; he oversees the purchasing and leasing of equipment. 

Youngest daughter, Denese Cunningham King, is responsible for the technology equipment used by the farm and is the assistant payroll manager. Brad King, her husband, provides assistance during planting and harvesting season, driving tractors and trucks as needed. 

 Cunningham currently rents 4290 acres and owns 75 and has been farming now for nearly sixty years. He grows 2400 acres of food-grade white corn with a yield of 156 bushels per acre; 1900 acres of soybeans with a yield of 48 bushels per acre; 25 acres of dark tobacco with a yield of 3850 pounds per acre; and 400 acres of wheat with a yield of 80 bushels per acre. He has the capacity to store 300,000 bushels of grain, storing everything he grows and shipping corn throughout the winter to the mill.

 He also does his own marketing, saying, “The basis is already set with corn, making it easier to market independently. Now, with smart phones and computers, technical help and information is at your fingertips. White corn garners a $1.00 premium that has helped keep the bottom line healthy.” He can sell in 5000 bushel corn, soybean, and wheat contracts. His dark tobacco crop is labor intensive (80 to 85 percent of the work is by hand) and is grown with the help of H2A labor.

Cunningham has been a long-term member and office holder in the Calloway County Farm Bureau, an organization that named him Calloway County Farmer of the Year in 2018. He says of this association, “They do a remarkably fine job of advocating for farmers in this county, state, and country. I’m very grateful for their hard work on behalf of families like mine that just love raising the best crops possible, no matter what the economic fluctuations might be.” 

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