NOTE: Danny Kornegy was the Overall Winner- read more here.
As a tobacco farmer, sweet potato grower, row crop producer and contract hog grower, Danny Kornegay of Princeton, N.C., has been a great success in his 45 years of farming.
He farms 5,500 acres, including 2,900 acres of rented land and 2,600 owned acres. He farms in three North Carolina and two South Carolina counties.
As a result of his success as a diversified farmer, Kornegay has been selected as the 2015 North Carolina winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Kornegay joins nine other state winners as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
He has about 500 acres of tobacco this year, and will cure the crop in 62 barns. Last year, his tobacco yielded 2,200 pounds per acre. “The future of tobacco is unsure,” says Kornegay. As a result, he has explored diversification into squash, greens and watermelons. He also expanded his sweet potato packing facilities and started growing peanuts.
He owns four hog houses and finishes 8,000 head per year for Goldsboro Milling. Kornegay receives hogs when they weigh about 40 to 50 pounds each, and he raises them to weights of 270 to 280 pounds each.
“We can store 150,000 bushels of grain that we market with guidance from a consultant,” he adds. “Our cotton is contracted with the Staplcotn cooperative, and we have multiple contracts for our peanuts and tobacco.”
In 1990, he and other farmers built a new modern gin with a warehouse for storing cotton in Newton Grove, N.C. His non-irrigated cotton yields about 1,100 pounds of lint per acre.
Sweet potatoes are a major crop yielding 400 to 500 bushels per acre. He’s growing about 800 acres of sweet potatoes this year.
Kornegay Family Produce is the name of his sweet potato packing and marketing venture. He built his packing facilities in 2007 to maintain high quality sweet potatoes for his customers. He can store 450,000 bushels of sweet potatoes in electronically controlled curing and cooling rooms. Earlier this year, he established a web site to assist in marketing his sweet potatoes.
He starts sweet potato plants on plant beds during March, and transplants small plants called slips to his fields during June. “We ship sweet potatoes across the country and across the ocean,” says Kornegay. “We package them in bags as small as three pounds to bulk containers weighing over 1,000 pounds and every size in between.”
His row crops include wheat yielding 75 bushels per acre and soybeans that yield about 50 bushels per acre. He has also planted twin row corn.
Last year, he grew his first peanuts on 200 acres and expanded to 450 acres this year.
Land available to farm is limited in his community. So in 1995 he started buying large farms in South Carolina. “Farming in South Carolina offered a good opportunity to expand our farm,” says Kornegay.
His North Carolina farm is in the Neuse River basin, so he monitors soil fertility levels closely. Yearly soil sampling helps Kornegay use variable rate fertilizer application. He has applied chicken litter on some fields, and he applies hog lagoon wastewater to his hay fields.
Among his conservation practices, he’s proud of his grassed waterways and borders he has placed around his crop fields. “We have little highly erodible land,” he says, “but we still use no-till or strip till planting for our cotton and soybeans.”
During the busy seasons, he relies on about 35 foreign guest workers working in the U.S. under the H-2A program. His year-round employees number up to 50, with the majority of those working in the sweet potato packing facility. Several year-round employees have been with him more than 15 years.
Kornegay remembers first working on the farm when he was five or six years old. He disked land while driving a John Deere M tractor as an eight-year-old. “After I turned 12, I worked on the farm every day after school and during the summer months,” he recalls. After high school, he started farming full time with his father.
Danny’s wife of 42 years, Susie, farmed many years with Danny and his father in the fields. She now manages the farm office. They attend Antioch Presbyterian Church. They’re sponsors of Little League teams and support 4-H, Cub and boy Scouts and local student organizations.
In recent years, the Kornegays have been recognized as Farm Family of the Year in Johnston County, Farm Family of the Year by the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina and River Friendly Farmers. Danny served on the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission board and received the Exemplary Service Award from this organization. He’s a member of Goodness Grows NC, a state produce marketing organization. He’s also a member of the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute.
Danny and Susie have two adult children, daughter Kim and son Dan. Kim was a social worker, then homemaker, before returning to the farm. She handles food safety, payroll, promotion, quality control and customer service. She often represents the farm before the community. Dan graduated from the Agriculture Institute at N.C. State University. He is the farm manager. This entails daily operations, grain marketing, managing conservation practices, maintaining application records and purchasing seed and inputs.
Danny and Susie also have five grandsons ages six through 12 who spend time and work on the farm when away from school.
“Our children play a huge role in the success of our company,” says Danny. He’s teaching his grandsons good farming practices they can use if they decide to come back to the farm. “We also teach them how to treat people, be they employees, landlords or customers,” adds Danny.
He says, “Our goal is to help feed and clothe the world, to be efficient, profitable and good stewards of the land. I love farming, and I’ve been blessed with my family. We have been blessed by God, and we are teaching the next generation that we are not self-made successes. We have tried to use our success to help and bless others.”
Audrey Brown, director of field services with North Carolina Farm Bureau, is the state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards in North Carolina. Kornegay was nominated for the honor by Milo Lewis-Ferrell, area organization director with North Carolina Farm Bureau.
Lewis-Ferrell admires Kornegay for his ability to control obstacles in farming. “No matter what the obstacle, he does what’s right for the land,” she says. “He has a passion for it. As a child, he would skip school to come back to help on the farm. His children and grandsons are making great contributions to this family farm.”
As the North Carolina state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Kornegay will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from PhytoGen, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash award that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, the choice of another $1,000 in cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from PhytoGen, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 26th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed more than $1 million in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous state winners from North Carolina include John Vollmer of Bunn, 1990; Kenneth Jones of Pink Hill, 1991; John Howard, Jr. of Deep Run, 1992; Carlyle Ferguson of Waynesville, 1993; Dick Tunnell of Swan Quarter, 1994; Allan Lee Baucom of Monroe, 1995; Scott Whitford of Grantsboro, 1996; Williams Covington, Sr. of Mebane, 1997; Phil McLain of Statesville, 1998; Earl Hendrix of Raeford, 1999; Reid Gray of Statesville, 2000; Rusty Cox of Monroe, 2001; Craven Register of Clinton, 2002; Frank Howey, Jr. of Monroe, 2003; Eddie Johnson of Elkin, 2004; Danny McConnell of Hendersonville, 2005; Thomas Porter, Jr. of Concord, 2006; Bill Cameron of Raeford, 2007; V. Mac Baldwin of Yanceyville, 2008; Fred Pittillo of Hendersonville, 2009; Bo Stone of Rowland, 2010; Thomas Porter, Jr. of Concord, 2011; Gary Blake of North Wilkesboro, 2012; Wilbur Earp of Winnabow, 2013; and Frank Howey, Jr., of Monroe, 2014.
North Carolina has had three overall winners, Eddie Johnson of Elkin in 2004, Bill Cameron of Raeford in 2007 and Thomas Porter, Jr. of Concord in 2011.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Kornegay farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 10-14. The judges for this year include John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years; Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.; and farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C., who was the overall winner in 2011.