Luverne native inducted into Auburn Agricultural Alumni Club Hall of Honor

Published 8:33 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Ray Hilburn, a lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate, was recently inducted into the Auburn Agricultural Alumni Club Hall of Honor as the 2023 Education/Government inductee. 

The annual awards program, held on Feb. 3, honored leaders for dedicating their lives to agriculture and industry-changing work, said Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs Department Director and club President Brian Hardin.. 

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“Our honorees made a real, tangible impact on agriculture in Alabama,” Hardin said. “Ray is well known in agriculture, even outside of poultry. He has a stellar reputation, is very dependable, and is a go to on so many issues, but more importantly he has a servant’s heart. He’s been in the Auburn Agricultural Alumni Club for many years and is a great asset there as well. I’m very proud to see Ray honored with the induction into the Hall of Honor.”

Born and raised in rural Alabama, Hilburn grew up on a farm and developed a deep appreciation for the land and the people who worked it. He has been involved in agriculture all his life and started working in poultry during his youth. 

Hilburn worked on his father’s farm, Hilburn and Sons, helping to raise table eggs until 1959 when the farm became a commercial hatchery. 

Working on the farm, Hilburn developed a keen interest in the poultry industry, which prompted him to pursue a degree in poultry science from Auburn University. He graduated in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in poultry science and worked his way up through the ranks to become a respected leader in the industry.

After graduating from Auburn, Hilburn worked for three years at ConAgra Poultry before joining the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) in 1981 as a poultry programs director. He spent 30 years at ADAI before retiring, but Hilburn said he couldn’t stay away from the poultry industry for long and eventually assumed the  position of associate director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.

Industry experts agree Hilburn’s name resonates in the poultry industry. His dedication to the industry extends beyond his professional career and he has mentored Auburn’s agriculture students for over 10 years, helping them navigate the multifaceted industry. 

Hilburn has raised thousands of dollars in scholarships for students and sold smoked chickens to fund a scholarship at Wallace State Community College for poultry science students transferring to Auburn. 

And, for over 30 years, Hilburn has prepared omelets for graduating Auburn College of Agriculture students and their families on graduation day.

In recognition of his work to improve the quality of life in the county, Hilburn received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Crenshaw County Chamber of Commerce in 2016. He has instructed educational seminars on poultry science to college students, mentored youth athletic groups, served on numerous civic and professional boards, and is an active member of the Rutledge United Methodist Church.

According to Rutledge resident Peggy Vardaro  who is a poultry farmer and retired Poultry Supervisor with the Alabama Department of Agriculture, Hilburn has been a tireless advocate for the industry and his passion for the poultry industry has always been evident in his work.

“Ray has for decades been the best Ambassador for the poultry industry, and for Alabama agriculture in general, that anyone could conceive,” Vardaro said. “He is a true public servant in every sense of the word, and never turns down an opportunity to promote agriculture in Alabama. I have had the privilege of working with Ray for many years as a poultry grower and as members of the Alabama Department of Agriculture. In my opinion there is no-one more deserving of this recognition.”