Robert Lee Dickey.

Author:Weiss, Suzanne

Legislating is a lot like farming, says Robert Lee Dickey III, who knows a thing or two about both. A good yield, in his view, requires "discipline, patience, hard work, reinvestment and long-term perspective."

Dickey is a fourth-generation peach and timber grower who was named the 2019 I Georgia state winner of Sunbelt Ag Expo's Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award.

He describes serving in the state House of Representatives for the past eight years as "one of the most rewarding experiences of my life." His legislative work in areas ranging from early-childhood education to rural economic development has given him the opportunity to "help make Georgia a better place to live--and you can't beat that."

Agriculture, politics and public service are in Dickey's blood. His great-grandfather--who began cultivating peaches in the heavy clay soil of central Georgia in 1897--served in the state legislature, as did one of his uncles, and Dickey's father was a county commissioner.

"Being a legislator was something that I've always wanted to do, and I came pretty close to running many years ago," he says. "But now I'm glad I waited until later in life to do this. I'm much better at being able to balance the demands on my time and energy than I would have been back then."

From that first small orchard planted by Dickey's great-grandfather, Dickey Farms has grown into a 4,000-acre spread, spanning several counties, on which the family produces peaches, pecans, strawberries and specialty crops, and manages a large expanse of timberland. The farm is home to the state's oldest continuously operating peach packinghouse, a thriving retail and mail-order business, and a growing agritourism program.

Over the years, Dickey has made many changes on the farm while honoring his family's history. To increase energy efficiency and reduce water use, the farm has transitioned to low-volume drip irrigation. Its 100,000 peach trees are still planted in traditional rows, but the areas between them are maintained in sod--an environmentally friendly practice that prevents erosion, adds organic matter to the soil and provides habitat for beneficial insects.

Running the farm is a family...

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