To recognize researchers and Extension personnel who have a direct impact on Alabama farms, the Alabama Farmers Federation in 2019 created two awards, the Rittenour Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Research and the Duncan Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Extension. The recipients address problems relevant to Alabama agriculture and forestry, which have a $70 billion state economic impact annually.
According to Brian Hardin, Alfa’s director of governmental and agricultural programs, the awards build on the organization’s strong, long-time connection to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University (AU).
“We talk with these professionals almost daily about a variety of issues – production, big picture issues, 4-H and more,” Hardin said. The groups also started gathering in the fall and in the spring for more formal discussions about specific, pressing on-farm issues.
In addition, Alfa began considering what they could do to help support and further research efforts at Extension and AU.
“We realized we needed to recognize and thank the researchers and Extension personnel who were going above and beyond in making a real, practical difference on the farm from the members’ standpoint,” Hardin explained.
Named after Alfa’s first president, Charles Rittenour, the Rittenour Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Research recognizes AU faculty or Extension staff for creative and original research. The winner receives up to $10,000 in program support, which can fund graduate students or research operations.
The Duncan Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Extension honors Extension staff developing or implementing solutions for stakeholder-identified problems. The winner receives up to $5,000 for programming costs. The award is named after Luther Duncan, the first director of Alabama Extension.
Award candidates are nominated by Alfa farming families who directly benefited from the candidates’ work.
“This award truly comes from the members. We want to hear from the members how the person they’re nominating has impacted them,” Hardin said.
Alfa’s online Google form makes it easy for members to nominate researchers and Extension personnel for the awards.
“We didn’t want to overcomplicate the process. We just want to hear from farmers what the research or Extension work has meant to them,” Hardin said.
A committee of Alfa staff members reviews the nominations and selects the honorees – a challenging task, according to Hardin.
Alfa celebrates the winners in several ways. First, Alfa President Jimmy Parnell personally calls the honorees. The award winners are also featured on Alfa’s podcast, “Alabama AgCast.”
In addition, the Alfa communications team captures photos of the honorees in action on farms, in greenhouses and other relevant ag spaces. The photos are used on Alfa’s social media channels and in their member publications, along with articles detailing the work of the honorees and how they’ve helped farmers.
The awards are formally presented to the honorees at Alfa’s summer meeting, the organization’s second-largest annual gathering. Short videos highlighting the work of both honorees are part of the presentation.
Both awards are sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation.
The Rittenour Award for Production Agriculture & Forestry Research and the Duncan Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Extension garnered the Alabama Farmers Federation a 2021 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award, which honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs, is presented annually at the AFBF Convention.