MERCEDES — Rio Grande Valley Sugarcane farmer Sam Sparks, of SRS Farms in Mercedes, has been named winner of the 2013 Texas Farm Bureau’s Outstanding Young Farmer & Rancher contest.
Sparks and his wife Shannon, of Harlingen, won the award over runners-up Andy and Morgan Boyd of Lames, and Cade and Jessica Richmond of De Leon. They were announced Sunday at the 80th annual Texas Farm Bureau meeting in San Antonio, TFB officials said.
The award recognizes outstanding farmers between 18 and 35 years of age.
“In Farm Bureau we have a program that is bigger than the award. It’s an opportunity for young farmers and ranchers across the state of Texas under 40 years of age to develop leadership potential, do some traveling to learn more about agriculture and the global impact of agriculture, and to learn one another and work with one another to develop leadership and influence,” said Gene Hall, Texas Farm Bureau director of public relations.
There is an extensive application process, ad judges select winners based on criteria like the farming operation itself and leadership skills, Hall said.
SRS Farms was started in the 1950s by Sparks’ grandfather, Sam R. Sparks, and until 2002 was run by his father, Bobby Sparks, who is now partially retired, Sparks said.
Sparks took over the farm after graduating from Abilene Christian University in 2002, and has been running it ever since.
Sparks, one of about 100 sugar cane growers in the Rio Grande Valley, also grows cotton, corn, grain sorghum and soybeans in the Valley. He also raises registered and commercial Black Angus, Brangus and Brahman cattle.
He started a retirement program to retain farm workers and attract new employees, and has worked to improve farming efficiency to increase profit.
“The main things have been improving the overall efficiency of the farm, leading to higher profits,” Sparks said.
“First and foremost would be implementing the technology to test our soils. We do extensive testing on our soils so that we know exactly what the plant that we grow needs in order to achieve optimal yield.”
Sparks said he was surprised to win the award, and thanks those involved for their support.
“Gosh, shocked and overwhelmed,” he said. “I did not think that we were going to get chosen, but we did. We were caught off guard.”
He thanked everyone for their help and support, and the Texas Farm Bureau “for recognizing the achievements of young producers in the ag community.”
The first place award came with a $5,000 cash prize, courtesy of Farm Credit; a 2014¾-ton 4x4 Chevrolet pickup, courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Companies; 100 hours of Case IH tractor use, courtesy of IH; a $1,000 service voucher, courtesy of Chevrolet; and a plaque and belt buckle representing the award, bureau officials said in a press release.
Sparks now will represent Texas for the American Farm Bureau Federation Achievement Award, during the annual meeting Jan. 12-15, 2014, in San Antonio.