When you travel toward Southwest Mississippi, hills roll into flatland that eventually meet the Mississippi River. Pine trees are grown by the thousands of acres, while row crop and cattle farmers are scattered throughout the land between. In the midst of this part of rural Mississippi sits 3,600 acres owned by Lonnie and Karen Fortner.
The couple, along with their children Beth and Lee, grow cotton, peanuts, corn and soybeans on their land in Claiborne and Warren counties. The Fortners have slowly grown their row crop farm over the last 22 years, allowing them to establish a unique and successful operation.
“I grew up on a family farm in Webster County, so I like to say farming is just in my blood,” Lonnie said. “After college, I worked as the Jefferson County executive director for the Farm Service Agency and I got to know everybody in this area. In 1996, a gentleman that farmed our land asked me to be their farm manager. And the rest is history.”
Lonnie was able to work his way into a farm partnership in 2006 before becoming a managing partner of Rock Lake Planting Company in 2009. Last year, the farm’s original owners retired so the Fortners were able to purchase the entire farm.
“When the Rock Lake Planting Company partnership dissolved, Karen and I formed our own partnership, Bayou Pierre Farms,” Lonnie said. “We’re proud of the progression we have made.”
Last year, Lonnie’s per acre yields were 1,078 pounds of cotton lint from 1,400 acres, 4,798 pounds of peanuts from 400 acres, 187 bushels of corn from 600 acres, and 45 bushels of soybeans from 1,200 acres.
As a result of his hard work and dedication, Lonnie was selected as the 2018 Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Mississippi Farmer of the Year. His selection as the Mississippi award winner allowed him to travel to Moultrie, Georgia in October to be honored by representatives throughout the agriculture industry.
“It is very humbling to get this honor for the state of Mississippi,” Lonnie said. “In all my years of farming, I’ve never really taken the time to look back. It has always been looking ahead to the next crop. This allowed me to take a look back at where I began and the long road that it has been to get to this point in my life. I really do have a better appreciation of the things I’ve accomplished; the things our farm has accomplished.”
Although Lonnie was not selected as the overall winner, he will still have the opportunity to spread the good news of Mississippi agriculture.
“Agriculture is important to me – it’s a part of my life,” Lonnie said. “It always has been from a very early age. It’s what I do. I feel it’s a calling. I look at it as a very important responsibility to provide the food and fiber we need to keep our country strong. I look forward to continue carrying that responsibility.”
Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Mike McCormick contributes Lonnie’s work ethic to his success as a farmer and Claiborne County Farm Bureau member.
“We are extremely proud of Lonnie for being selected as the 2018 Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Farmer of the Year for Mississippi and for representing our state well during the overall Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition,” McCormick said. “We appreciate Lonnie’s dedication to not only his farm and Farm Bureau, but to the agriculture industry as a whole.”
In addition to serving as the Claiborne County Farm Bureau vice-president, Lonnie is also a board member for a local farm cooperative and the vice-president of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association. He chairs Mississippi’s Peanut Promotion Board and serves as an alternate member of the National Peanut Board.