Jerry Wyant of Vale, North Carolina is a diversified farmer with a knack for saving money and building what he needs to make his farm more efficient.
He lives on the farm where he was raised, across from two old red barns, on Wyant Road, a country highway named for his grandmother who championed to get it paved. A full time farmer since 1971, he raises wheat, soybeans, corn, alfalfa and grass hay, grass seed and beef cattle.
As a result of his success as a crop and livestock farmer, Wyant has been selected as the state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He joins nine other individuals as finalists for the overall award that will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
He started farming full time on 400 acres with 100 rented acres and 300 owned acres. He expanded to 1,600 acres that now includes 900 acres of rented land and 700 acres of owned land.
Last year, his per acre crop yields were 77 bushels of wheat from 600 acres, 52 bushels of soybeans from 950 acres and 110 bushels of corn from 80 acres.
Wyant grows hay on 150 acres and produces 2.75 tons of alfalfa per acre and 2.25 tons of grass hay per acre. He grows grass seed on 70 acres, and sells the seed in 50-pound bags.
Straw has become a major crop from his 600 wheat acres. He bales straw in 40-pound rectangular bales and produces about 40,000 bales per year. He has saved on labor costs by investing in a stack wagon and a bale handler to mechanize the moving and loading of the straw bales.
Straw from his farm helped stabilize the soil when a new runway was added to Charlotte’s airport. “We sell straw by the trailer load and deliver it to landscape businesses within a four-county area,” he says. “We deliver large loads of our hay to our customers, and we sell small hay loads directly from the farm.”
Each year his 83 cows produce about 75 calves that he sells as feeder cattle after raising them to 500 to 600 pounds each.
He has about 80,000 bushels of grain storage capacity on his farm. “We also use futures contracts and market up to six months ahead of harvest,” he says.
About a third of the corn he produces is set aside and bagged as deer corn that is sold from the farm.
He was one of the first farmers in his area to use no-till planting, and still sees the benefits of conservation tillage for his soil. “My goal has been to leave the land in better shape than it was in when I began farming, and to do this without incurring debt,” he says.
Wyant owns a bulldozer, track hoe, motor grader, dirt pan and other earthmoving equipment he uses to clear land and to improve his own farm. “We just cleared 22 acres,” says Wyant. “It can cost $3,000 per acre if you paid for land clearing. We also use our equipment to build ponds, and we built one pond in two weeks.”
Pond construction is part of a five-year plan to add irrigation for his cropland. Over the years, Wyant has cut timber and cleared about 200 acres of land that he converted to crop and forage production.
He occasionally does land improvement jobs for others, and at some point could set up the earthmoving as a separate business to further boost total farm income.
He owns four tractor-trailers that he uses to haul crops. After delivering soybeans to ADM in Kershaw, S.C., he backhauls sand to a cement company in Denver, N.C. The sand hauling and hauling soybeans and corn for local farmers helps to cover costs for his trucking operation.
Wyant has overcome setbacks. One was a severe drought in 1986. Another was in 2013 when a grain buyer accepted his wheat, but couldn’t pay for it and later declared bankruptcy. Wyant suffered severe financial losses from both incidents, yet was able to bounce back by dipping into savings to cover his losses.
Saving money is a priority for Wyant. He has saved considerable expenses by using his own labor to build a large equipment shop. He has also built grain bins and sheds to store his straw. He and his sons even built a home for one of his sons.
Wyant has provided distinguished service in farm organizations and to his community. He was active in Jaycees, the local volunteer fire department and was a member of the Lincoln County Planning Board. He has been recognized for his soil and water conservation and as an Extension volunteer. He served as vice president of the N.C. Agricultural Foundation.
Since 1974, he has served as Farm Bureau president in Lincoln County. He serves on the board and as vice president of North Carolina Farm Bureau. He has held a variety of other volunteer positions with the local and state Farm Bureau organizations. He has also traveled widely for lobbying and educational trips on behalf of Farm Bureau. For American Farm Bureau, he has served on national committees and as a voting delegate at annual meetings. One of his recent trips was a trade mission to China led by North Carolina Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler.
Jerry and his wife Linda are both active lifetime members of Daniels Lutheran Church in Lincolnton, N.C.
Linda is a retired elementary school teacher, and has since become a school volunteer. She has helped to teach agriculture to elementary students in Lincoln County. She also chairs the Lincoln County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee. She helped to host a farm safety day on their farm. On the state level, she has been active in the N.C. Farm Bureau Women’s Committee. She has also attended a number of American Farm Bureau conventions and conferences.
Linda learned hard work by growing up on a dairy farm. She keeps busy maintaining the land around their home and farmstead. She also drives the lead vehicle whenever farm equipment needs to be moved on busy highways.
Jerry and Linda have three adult children, twins Tommy and Susan and their youngest son David. Susan lives in Greenville, N.C. and works as a bank executive. She is also a certified public accountant and helps on the farm by handling the bookkeeping. Both Tommy and David work full time on the farm.
Audrey Brown, director of field services with North Carolina Farm Bureau, coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state. Wyant was nominated for the honor by Luke Beam, N.C. Farm Bureau field representative. Beam admires Wyant’s mechanized straw handling. “Jerry’s operation is set apart,” says Beam. “He is a God-dependent, self-sufficient, environment-enhancing individual who speaks out for agriculture.”
As the North Carolina state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Wyant 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 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, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply and a smoker-grill from Hays LTI.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 27th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,040,000 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; Wilbur Earp of Winnabow, 2013; Frank Howey, Jr., of Monroe, 2014; and Danny Kornegay of Princeton, 2015.
North Carolina has had four overall winners, Eddie Johnson of Elkin in 2004, Bill Cameron of Raeford in 2007, Thomas Porter, Jr. of Concord in 2011, and Danny Kornegay of Princeton in 2015.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Wyant’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 1-5. The judges for this year include Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.; farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C., who was the overall winner in 2011; and Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist from Greenville, Miss.
Note to media: The judges will visit the Wyant farm on Aug. 5 from 8-11 a.m. If you would like to visit the farm during the final two hours of judging, please call John Leidner at 229-392-1798, or contact him by email at [email protected], or contact Wyant by calling 704-276-2544.