As urban growth near Charlotte has expanded, the farm of Frank Howey Jr., has grown at an equal rate. In 32 years of farming, Howey from Monroe, N.C., has become one of the largest farmers in the area and state.
He specializes in row crops, wheat, soybeans and corn, and has a small cattle herd. He operates close to 21,000 acres of which 3,500 acres are rented and 17,500 acres are owned.
As a result of his success as a crop farmer, Howey has been selected as the North Carolina winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Howey joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
He has already won major farming awards—FFA Star American Farmer in 1987, American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award in 1995 and was a Swisher/Sunbelt state Farmer of the Year in 2003.
He uses no irrigation yet produces impressive yields. Last year’s per acre yields were 185 bushels of corn from 6,000 acres, 81 bushels of wheat from 9,100 acres and 68 bushels of full season soybeans from 1,100 acres. Weather hurt last year’s doublecropped soybeans, but those he harvested yielded 51 bushels per acre. He also has about 1,500 acres of timber.
Howey conserves moisture with no-till planting. He uses crop residue to increase soil organic matter and to retain moisture in drought-prone soils. Doing this also makes high yields possible. He was an innovator in growing corn in 15-inch rows. He also uses a 40-foot-wide combine header, the first 32-row corn header designed for harvesting 15-inch corn.
His normal rotation is corn, followed by wheat, followed by soybeans for three crops in two years. He has also pioneered in wheat-corn doublecropping. “We have grown 200-bushel corn following outstanding 90-bushel wheat,” he adds.
Howey has won state soybean yield contests, and production efficiency contests by producing soybeans for the lowest cost per bushel.
This year, he’s raising about 11,000 acres of wheat. He broadcasts and incorporates and incorporates wheat seed into the soil using minimum tillage. He also plants no-till wheat, depending on soil type.
His 60-head cowherd adds diversity to his operation, and he can graze his cropland during winter months. He sells weaned calves at about 670 pounds, and gets higher prices by using graded feeder calf sales.
He markets his grain crops using hedging, futures contracts, hedge-to-arrive contracts, basis contracts and crop options. “The time I spend on marketing is invaluable,” he adds. “Quality grain is very important in developing long term markets. I also sell deer corn to local hunters for a premium.”
He’s a strong believer in using on-farm grain storage for better marketing. He recently built new grain storage facilities, and now has access to about 880,000 bushels of storage.
Howey is a licensed real estate broker in North and South Carolina, and saves money when buying farms and timberland. He’s leasing 34 acres to a solar power provider and has more land available for solar farms. He has sold land for parks, industrial expansion, a county agricultural center and for other projects that benefit the people of Union County.
He leases out hunting land that he manages to enhance wildlife habitat. He has also taken part in stream conservation projects to improve water quality.
In addition, he has used permanent conservation easements to preserve some of his farmland for generations to come. “This prime farmland was highly sought after for development because of its proximity to Charlotte,” he explains. “Preserving it as farmland was the most important thing to me.”
Howey is a seed dealer for the Monsanto, Asgrow and DeKalb brands. He is also growing and selling wheat seed for Limagrain Cereal Seeds. His seed work gives him early access to promising new varieties. “I am one of the largest farmer-seed dealers in the Southeast,” he adds.
He delegates authority to key employees, including Robbie Ratliff and John Rogers, two of his farm managers. Fran Birmingham is his office manager. He also hires H-2A guest workers from other countries, including Louw Gerrike, a South African who manages his grain elevators.
Howey grew up on a farm. He became an Eagle Scout in 1983. As a 13-year-old, he raised greenhouse plants for sale at a local cooperative store. He also raised produce crops for ten years and sold them at the Monroe Farmer’s Market. He bought 19 acres at age 18, and has bought land every year since. He traded labor for his father’s equipment and worked alongside his dad until his father’s death in 1995.
Howey serves the local and the farming communities. In Union County, has been active in Union Academy school board, Board of Equalization and Review, Farm Bureau, Cub Scouts, Board of Adjustment, Ultimate Charity Auction, Community Shelter board, Planning Board and Central Carolina Bank board.
Also locally, he has been active in the Chamber of Commerce, Citizens for Progress, and he completed the Leadership Union program. He has helped Boy Scouts with fundraising and is a trustee of Pleasant Grove Campground.
At the state level, he has been active in Farm Bureau, Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, Corn Growers, N.C. State University Agricultural Foundation Board, Crop Improvement Association, Forestry Association, Wildlife Resources Commision, Extension Service Advisory Board and as Small Grain Growers Association president.
He has also traveled to Brazil and Europe with agricultural and other organizations.
Howey praises his wife Alison who has an accounting background and helps manage the family’s and farm’s finances.
Frank and Alison are active in First Presbyterian Church. Alison has been involved locally on a hospital board, an Extension advisory group, Union Academy Charter School, United Way, a pharmacy assistance program and as an American Cancer Society volunteer. She has also been active in N.C. Corn Growers and Farm Bureau, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames, and the International Society of Event Specialists.
Alison says she admires Frank for his patience, flexibility, and encouragement. “He is an example through his faith,” she says. “I don’t know how you can farm without faith.”
They have two young children, a son Trey and a daughter Ellie. Trey, 11, is involved in 4-H turkey exhibits. Ellie, five, has already expressed a love for farm animals. “I see characteristics in her that I had at that age,” says Frank. “The best crops on our farm are our children.”
Audrey Brown, director of Field Services with North Carolina Farm Bureau, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Farm Bureau member Marvin Evans, who nominated Howey for the award, admires the improvements he has made in the farm. Karen McKnight, district field representative with N.C. Farm Bureau, assisted Evans with the nomination. McKnight says, “Frank puts his heart and soul 100% into what he is doing.”
As the North Carolina state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Howey will 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 Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He’s now eligible for $15,000 cash prize that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of either another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, 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 25th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $964,000 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; and Wilbur Earp of Winnabow, 2013.
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 Howey’s farm and the farms of the other nine state finalists during the week of Aug. 4-8. The judges this year include
farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years; and Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.