DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Fourth-generation farmer Bill Bridgeforth wakes at 4:30 every morning and goes to bed 30 minutes after he gets home, regardless of what time that might be.
When it's harvesting time, his day might not end until 10:30 p.m. Bridgeforth, 55, and his family farm 10,000 acres, growing cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans and canola.
"The hours are long," he said. "It's not such hard and physical work anymore, just a lot of hours. But every day I wake up, I look forward to the challenges of managing a farm. I just enjoy every aspect of it."
When you love your job, waking up at 4:30 a.m. doesn't seem like a chore, he said.
Bridgeforth's dedication to agriculture was recognized Tuesday when he traveled to Washington, D.C., as a guest of the White House. He was dubbed an agricultural "Champion of Change," along with 14 other agricultural leaders from around the nation by the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The award is given to those making strides to encourage the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
But Bridgeforth, of Darden Bridgeforth and Sons in Limestone County, refuses to accept credit alone.
"I accept this award on the behalf of the entire Bridgeforth family," he said. "I think this award is a testament to our Christian faith. We put God first and then family. We work hard, give back to our community and just try to do the right thing."
Bridgeforth said his family is still largely involved in its operation. His two sons, Carlton and Kyle; nephew, Lamont; brothers, Gregory, Milton, John, William, Paul and Mitchell; and sisters Olivia Sims, Marie Kirby and Doris Jones still help on the farm.
As chairman of the National Black Growers Council, he is a civic leader in the effort to improve efficiency, sustainability and productivity of black farmers, which according to the 2007
Census of Agriculture account for 1.3 percent of the U.S. farming community.
"For me, farming has been a wonderful way of life, and I want young black people to look for a career in agriculture," he said. "With the Growers Council, we work to develop young talent to work in different areas of agriculture, and the goal is to present agriculture in a positive manner to get young people interested in farming again."
His philanthropic work includes supporting his alma mater, Alabama A&M University.
He is a member of A&M's Agriculture Advisory Board and is on the executive board of the national organization Council on Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching.
Lloyd Walker, A&M's Agriculture, Life and Natural Sciences dean and research director, said Bridgeforth has been involved with various research projects to determine which crop varieties grow well in the area. Bridgeforth also has allowed the university usage of his farm equipment.
"I was excited to hear that he was receiving recognition," Walker said. "He is busy managing the farm, but he still finds time to help the school."
In 2008, Darden Bridgeforth and Sons partnered with the university to reintroduce canola into north Alabama as an alternative to growing wheat.
"You can only plant wheat for so long before it starts to get diseases and there's a decrease in production," Bridgeforth said. "Canola is a good alternative to growing wheat in the fall. It also can be used to make a healthy vegetable oil and to make bio fuel. It's one of those crops that has a lot of usage and is in very high demand."
Darden Bridgeforth and Sons planted 500 acres of canola in 2008 to demonstrate how successful the venture could be.
Now 12,000 acres of canola is being grown throughout north Alabama and southern Tennessee.
"Maybe others will look at what he is doing and take a page out of his book," Walker said.
Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml