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(This story is published with permission from the Kentucky Farm Bureau)
Shane and Mary Courtney of Shelby County were honored as Kentucky Farm Bureau’s (KFB) 2013 “Outstanding Young Farm Family” during the organization’s 94th annual meeting in Louisville. Each year, KFB awards this distinction to a couple under age 35 who has exhibited the strongest farm management skills, most consistent financial growth and highest level of involvement in both Farm Bureau and the community.
In addition to receiving statewide recognition as the newest “Outstanding Young Farm Family,” the Courtneys won a Case IH Scout courtesy of KFB Insurance and Case IH, an Apple iPad from Republic Bank & Trust, $1,000 cash from Premier Crop Insurance, a $750 Dyna-Gro seed voucher from Crop Production Services, a $500 voucher from Southern States Cooperative and a voucher for 12 bags of seed corn from Pioneer Seed. They also received an expense-paid trip to compete in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) national young farmer contest next month in San Antonio, Texas.
Winners of the AFBF national contest will take home their choice of either a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado or a 2014 GMC Sierra, courtesy of GM, and a paid registration to the 2014 Young Farmer & Rancher Leadership Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia, February 7-10, 2014. Three national runners-up will receive a Case IH Farmall 65A, courtesy of Case IH, a $2,500 cash prize and a STIHL Farm Boss chainsaw, courtesy of STIHL.
The “Outstanding Young Farm Family” second place distinction went to Dustin and Tammy White of Union County, and third place winners were Jonathan and Jessica Gaskins of Adair County.
Shane & Mary Courtney
Shane and Mary Courtney began farming as a family in 2006 after purchasing their first 45 acres of land in Shelby County. With no pre-existing infrastructure on the farm but a strong desire to live on the land, they constructed a barn with live-in quarters to launch their dream.
Today, through a variety of wise financial partnerships and well-timed land and equipment acquisitions, the Courtneys now farm a total of 569.5 acres to raise burley tobacco, corn, soybeans, mixed vegetables, green bell peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and zucchini, specialty peppers and seedless watermelon.
Before Shane began his venture into farming, he was a full-time schoolteacher who started mowing lawns part-time. This business venture led him through a series of experiences that helped him confidently take the leap into farming. Learning how to operate his own business, direct employees, manage finances, deal with the uncertainty of weather and earn extra income for his family served as the perfect springboard to start a farm of his own.
From their modest beginnings, the Courtneys have spent the last seven years rapidly and assertively pursuing ways to expand their operation. They added another barn with a bunkhouse to meet the demands of the farm’s growth and labor requirements. When the Courtneys decided to begin growing vegetables, they constructed a greenhouse for transplants. They added a second greenhouse just a year later to assist with their tobacco transplants, and constructed a two-acre pond in anticipation of needing to irrigate their crops.
Starting a farm from the ground up, Shane and Mary also needed to purchase several essential pieces of equipment. The bare necessities were acquired, including tractors, planting and tillage equipment, a sprayer, wagons and a tobacco baler. A few generous farmers in the area loaned equipment to the Courtneys when theirs wasn’t quite adequate to get the job done, but the success of the farm has helped the couple become more self-sufficient each year.
The Courtneys have remained active in the pursuit of adjacent land acquisitions as well, and with those purchases came the addition of an equipment storage barn and several equipment sheds, outdoor tobacco structures, a tobacco barn, a dairy parlor that will soon be converted into an office, and a home to be remodeled. The acquisition of land, buildings and equipment to grow larger quantities of labor-intensive crops also led to the Courtneys to hire help and expand their workforce.
Beyond the growth of their farm, transparency and connecting families with food and agriculture is also a personal mission of the Courtneys. This included three years selling vegetables, eggs and meat through a Community Supported Agriculture program, hosting a “Touch the Dirt Day” on their farm each fall, and interacting with the non-farm public year-round through the family’s blog site.
Volunteering their time to many other causes outside of their own farm, Shane and Mary have both served on Shelby County Farm Bureau’s board of directors for the past several years. In addition to serving in a wide variety of capacities on the county Farm Bureau level, they are also often engaged in many KFB Young Farmer events. The Courtneys are involved and assume leadership roles in numerous other civic and agricultural organizations across the state and within their community.
(Mary Courtney is a native of Springfield and a graduate of Washington County High School. She is the daughter of Mike and Susan McCain of Springfield.)