North Carolina’s Thomas Porter, Jr., was named the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year during the opening day of the Expo, being held Oct. 18-20 in Moultrie, Ga.

“I’m humbled to be named as Farmer of the Year,” said the Concord, N.C., grower. “I thank God for the privilege of being able to tend a small portion of his land and taking care of his creatures. It’s really something to be honored and respected for going out and doing what I love to do.”

Porter’s farm includes 850 acres with 270 acres of rented land and 580 acres of owned land.

He’s growing Matua bromegrass. This forage produces earlier in the spring and later in the fall than tall fescue. His 110 acres of Matua yield about six tons per acre when irrigated with hog lagoon effluent. He also grows fescue-clover hay on 436 acres yielding up to five tons per acre, and his fescue-oats forage mix yields six tons per acre from 105 acres.

He has fescue-clover stands on 110 pasture acres, and he planted 25 acres of Laredo, a seeded bermudagrass variety. “We wanted a warm season grass to utilize animal waste,” he adds.

Last year, his swine operation had 2,200 sows that produced an average of 23.5 pigs per sow. Pigs leave his farm when weaned at 21 days of age. He grows the swine under contract with Murphy-Brown.

“We’re paid on a per head basis for weaned pigs,” he explains. “We are also a multiplication unit for Murphy-Brown. This means our gilts are grown as replacement breeding stock.”

He had shipped up to 1,100 pigs weekly, but now ships 931 pigs per week. “We produced more pigs than they could handle,” he explains. “Now, we’re shipping fewer pigs from fewer sows, yet we’re making the same money we made with more sows.”

Minimizes disease risk

He requires showers for anyone entering or leaving the swine facilities. Porter says, “We minimize disease risks with our bio-security measures and because of our location. There are no swine farms farther west than ours in the state.”

His isolated location is one reason his was chosen as a Murphy-Brown multiplier farm. Dead poultry, hogs and cattle are all composted on the farm. “No rendering trucks enter our farm, and that also helps with overall bio-security,” explains Porter.

The poultry operation consists of four pullet houses and four layer houses. Poultry is raised under contract with Tyson Foods. He built his first pullet houses in 1990, and began raising layers to produce broiler breeder eggs in 2009.

Layers remain on the farm 10 months and produce about 38,000 hatching eggs per day during peak production. Pullets are brought to his farm just after hatching, and he keeps them 20 weeks before they are moved to layer houses. He’s paid on the basis of square feet in his poultry houses, and receives bonuses based on egg hatchability and feed conversion for the layers.

“Poultry has been a good fit with our cattle,” says Porter.

“The poultry litter is dry, and we stack it before we apply it as fertilizer. Layer house cleanout takes place during August and September, and that is when we apply the litter to our pastures and hay fields. This has greatly reduced our need for commercial fertilizer.”

He built his beef herd from five cows. It now consists of 300 Hereford-Angus cows bred to Angus bulls. “We vaccinate, background and precondition our calves before we sell them at 700 to 800 pounds in truckload lots in a tele-auction,” he explains.

“By building a reputation for top quality calves, buyers will want our cattle and, hopefully, pay a premium.”

His farm has received awards, as a county Farm Family of the Year and for soil and water conservation. He has received environmental stewardship awards from his poultry and pork contracting companies.

“I always wanted to farm,” says Porter. He grew up on a dairy, and raised a garden as a child. In high school, he sold greenhouse tomato plants. He worked as a welder, pipe fitter and building contractor to raise capital to invest in his farm.

“I established my farm during the 1980s, and put in our hogs during 1992,” he recalls. “That’s when I stopped building houses to farm full time.”

He hopes to establish permanent conservation easements to keep his land in agricultural production, and then use proceeds from the easements to buy additional farmland.

In Cabarrus County, he serves as Farm Bureau president, on the Planning and Zoning Board, on the Agricultural District board and chairs the Extension Advisory Committee. He’s also an associate of the Soil and Water Conservation District. He’s a former member of a watershed improvement group and served as Cattlemen’s Association president.

State level

On the state level, he chairs the Carolina Farm Credit board, serves on the Poultry Federation board and has been a Farm Bureau convention delegate.

Nationally, he represents poultry on an American Farm Bureau committee. His farm was also selected for an environmental management pilot project. 

His wife Vicky is just as active. She’s a district supervisor in the Cabarrus County Soil and Water Conservation District, chairs the county’s Agricultural District board and is an advisor to the Farm Service Agency County Committee. On the state level, Vicky has been a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Commission and the North Carolina Ag Foundation.

In Farm Bureau, she is a graduate of a leadership program and has been a state convention delegate. She has also been active in American Farm Bureau’s Women’s Committee.

They have three grown children, all involved with the farm. Their son Derek is a firefighter who works at the farm on his days off. Their son Jared is a police officer and works at the farm on weekends. Jared’s wife Colleen manages the farm’s layer operation. Their daughter Erin is a recent college graduate who handles payroll for the farm. 

“All of our income comes from the farm,” adds Porter. “We hope to expand our cattle herd and add two more pullet houses. We farm responsibly and have been good stewards of our natural resources. We work very hard and I feel blessed to have accomplished the goals I set out to achieve.”

This marks the 22nd Anniversary of Swisher International and the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award.

Since its inception in 1990, the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award has evolved into the most prestigious honor in the Southeast and nation.

Ten states participate in the program: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

In the previous 21 years of the award, more than $843,000 has been awarded to state and overall winners. Each state winner receives $2,500 and an all expense paid trip to Expo along with various other prizes. 

The overall Southeastern winner receives $15,000 and various other prizes from the sponsors.