Governor Nixon has traveled the state this week to honor several Missouri farmers for expanding their current farm operations, extend their reach and hire more employees.

One of those receiving the Governor’s Award for Agricultural Achievement is White Mule Winery in Central Missouri’s Owensville. Karen Schlottach says she and her husband, Charlie, decided to venture into growing grapes about 12 years ago.

They inherited some property with a farm house, barn and outbuildings, which they and their children have transformed into a winery, restuarant, bed and breakfast and is open for parties and weddings. Schlottach says their sons and daughter have big roles in the farming, wine-making, construction and operation, but have recently gotten to a point where hiring outside help became necessary. The farm now employs about 15 people.

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta talks to Karen Schlottach (1:11)

Nixon was joined by Agriculture Director Jon Hagler in recognizing White Mule and other farms. They include the Scheer Family Dairy Farm in Franklin County; Parker & Jones Cotton Farm in Senath; Stark Brothers’ Nurseries and Orchards in Louisiana; and Stemme Farms in St. Louis County.

“Agriculture has always been, and will always be, the heart of Missouri’s economy, and agri-tourism businesses like White Mule Winery are a big part of the reason why,” Nixon said. “Missouri farmers create jobs, support their communities and grow our economy. The farmers, ranchers and producers of Missouri are moving our state forward through innovation and are creating new opportunities for our future.

“The economic future of Missouri is getting brighter every day,” he said. “The jobs report for September showed our unemployment rate has reached the lowest level since December 2008. Coupled with our exports setting an all-time record last year, it’s clear we are moving Missouri in the right direction.”

The Schlottach family has been in Gasconade County for more than 100 years, and worked in the wine industry before establishing the winery in 2011. The winery produces grapes and has expanded its facility along Highway 50. Schlottach served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2003 to 2011 and previously was presiding commissioner in Gasconade County.

Rick Scheer and Scheer Family Dairy Farm includes 120 Holstein dairy cattle, which averages 70 pounds of milk per cow per day, and 20,000-21,000 pounds of milk per cow per year. The Scheer Family Dairy Farm was the first dairy farm in the state to feature a fully-automated milking system. This innovative system allows cattle to self-select milking times 24 hours per day. The system also provides each cow with a specialized ration during milking, monitors each animal’s weight, and benefits the cows by ensuring a calmer environment during milking. Scheer Family Dairy Farm is a state-inspected facility providing Grade A fluid milk for Prairie Farms.

Charles Parker, co-owner of Parker & Jones Cotton Farm, is getting ready to plant his 46th crop of cotton in Missouri’s Bootheel — cotton country. Parker says by the end of April, 3,600 acres will be planted. He says some of the land has been producing cotton, and cotton only, for more than 100 years. Alan Jones, Parker’s partner, is also his son-in-law.

They say embracing technology is key to their success, utilizing RTK AutoSteer, GPS, minimum tillage and makes smart choices in purchasing certain strains of seed.

Nixon and Hagler also visited Louisiana, Mo., to recognize Stark Bro’s Nurseries and Orchards. Stark Bro’s is one of the oldest and largest nursery and greenhouse operations in the state, founded nearly 200 years ago when James Hart Stark planted an orchard along the Mississippi River. Since its beginnings in 1816, Stark Bro’s has grown to include nearly 100 acres of orchards in Pike County, three acres of greenhouse space, and more than seven acres of warehouses to support the business’ hundreds of varieties of plants, from ornamental shrubs to fruit trees.

The orchards and greenhouses Stark Bro’s maintains in northeast Missouri are home to technology used throughout the U.S. and world-wide for providing consumers with hardy, tolerant plants, including peach, plum and almond trees. Stark Bro’s is known for providing outstanding genetics within their plants, both through mail order services and its retail operation alongside the orchards in Pike County.

Nixon and Hagler then traveled to St. Louis County to visit Warren Stemme and his farm, home to 1,200 acres of soybeans and corn. Stemme is a fourth-generation farmer on land his family has worked since 1869. He is currently a board member for the Missouri Soybean Association and is a past president of the organization. Stemme is currently a board member of the St. Louis County Farm Bureau and the Howard Bend Levee District. He is also president of Biofuels LLC and Mid-America Biofuels LLC.

He says people from local schools, universities, churches and other groups often visit his farm, something he says puts farming practices in perspective for city dwellers.

AUDIO: Julie Harker talks to Warren Stemme (:28)

Julie Harker with Brownfield contributed to this story.