Published on 03/15/12

Young Lyons farmer wins 2012 Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award

By Merritt Melancon

First-generation Toombs County farmer Chris Hopkins has been awarded the 2012 Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award.

Gov. Nathan Deal presented the award at the National Agricultural Awareness Day kick-off celebration on March 13 at the Georgia Freight Depot in downtown Atlanta.

The stewardship award is given every year to a farmer who has incorporated conservation practices into the day-to-day activities of his operation in order to protect and conserve Georgia’s natural resources, according to the nomination form supplied by the governor’s office. In addition to a plaque, the governor presented Hopkins with large sign to place at the entrance to his farm.

Seven years ago Hopkins and his wife Marilynn started their field crop operation on 50 acres of rented land in Toombs County. Since that time, the Hopkins’ farm has grown to encompass 600 acres of cotton, peanuts, corn timber, watermelons and pecans.

While they’ve grown their operation quickly, they’ve grown it carefully as well - restoring old erosion control structures, adding new ones and maximizing the irrigation efficiency on all of their parcels, said Steve Brown, assistant dean for Extension at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Brown served on the five-member team that evaluated nominees.

“Despite working full time jobs, Chris and his wife Marilynn have been able to start a farming operation from scratch, something that is very difficult to do these days,” Brown said. “What began with 50 acres of rented land has grown to 600 acres of leased and owned land. Chris has worked to implement new technology and conservation practices throughout his entire operation since it’s beginning.”

Hopkins parents were not farmers but he learned to love farm life while scouting cotton with his uncles, according to his award nomination.

He has a master’s degree in plant protection and pest management from the UGA. He currently manages Lasseter Implement in Lyons in addition to working on his farm.

Marilynn, who was Marilynn Howard before the two married, graduated from UGA in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness. They are both active members of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association.

While Hopkins won the statewide award, the governor also recognized four other Georgia farmers who were finalists for the prizes. All of these farmers have taken great steps to improve the quality of the soil and water that they depend on to earn a living, Brown said.

“We actually visited all five farms and saw first-hand the accomplishments of the regional winners,” Brown said. “I wish everyone that has ever criticized agriculture for environmental damage could see the dedication of these five to not only make a living off the land, but to leave it better than they found it.”

The other finalists include:

• James Burton of James P. Burton Farm in LaFayette

• Carl Jordan of Spring Valley EcoFarms in Athens

• Glenn Waller of Waller Farm in Harrison

• Adam Graft of Leatherbrook Holsteins in Americus

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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