North Carolina Farmer of the Year Sunbelt Ag Expo Kevin MatthewsKevin and Cindy Matthews own and operate Matthews Family Farms of North Carolina, Inc., Precision Nutrient Management, Inc., and Deep Creek Grain, Inc. in East Bend and Yadkinville, North Carolina. Matthews is the fourth generation on his family’s farm. He said, “With the economic crisis of the 1980s, however, my dad and his brother decided to leave farming and start a full-time grading business. But, happily for us, they kept some of the farm land.”

Matthews was a high school freshman when that happened but continued to nurture his dream of farming for a living. His future wife, Cindy, grew up on a tobacco farm not far from the Matthews’ place. Kevin obtained his A.S. degree in Electronic Engineering in 1993 at Forsyth Technical Community College and Cindy got her A.A. degree in Medical Technologies in 1994 from Surry Community College. 

In the early years of their marriage she worked as a medical secretary, and Kevin accepted a job with Electronic Equipment Services in Winston-Salem. He said, “It was a great job with good benefits, but I was still farming on the side because it was in my blood. When I was eventually laid off from that position, I decided to farm full-time. The first five years were tough, but Cindy and I worked hard and kept our heads up.”

Matthews recalled, “Starting with just two and a half dozen acres, we added more land each year. As older neighbors retired, they approached us with offers to take over their land. They saw how we maintained field borders and reduced weed populations year-round.” He added, “Because of the way we treated both our own and rented land, we were able to experience a quick increase in acreage over the period of a decade.”

He added, “My wife was working a full-time job that barely covered daycare expenses for our children. We decided to plant a niche crop of strawberries in 2000, and the success of that enterprise allowed Cindy to come to work full-time on the farm. That’s when we felt we truly became a family farm.” Their children are Danielle Matthews Venable, 24; Timothy Matthews, 21; and Megan Matthews, 15.

Through the years of expansion Matthews took on the additional tasks of volunteer firefighter and first responder. He and Cindy also managed all the books themselves with the help of their accountant. But the emphasis on the agronomy aspect of the farm left the office and administrative portion on the back burner. So in January 2016, they hired a part-time chief financial officer to focus solely on the operation’s records. “It wasn’t the easiest decision to make,” Matthews recalled, “but it was the right one for the health and smooth running of the farm’s finances.”

Thirty years ago, Kevin Matthews began farming on 30 acres of rented land. He currently operates 6000 acres, with 4000 acres rented and 1300 owned. Crop yields are as follows: 2700 acres of dryland corn yielding 180 bushels/acre; 300 acres of irrigated corn yielding 310 bushels/acre; 1960 acres of dryland soybeans yielding 70 bushels/acre; 70 acres of irrigated soybeans yielding 105 bushels/acre; 500 acres of wheat yielding 81 bushels/acre; and 100 acres of barley yielding 80 bushels/acre. Matthews employees twelve full-time and four part-time workers, including four seasonal H2A workers from South Africa. 

As for marketing his crops, Matthews uses an advisory group and broker, relying heavily on hedging and forward contracts. Typically, the bulk of his crops are sold for January-through-May delivery. Because he is able to store his grain, additional bushels are spread throughout the year. This also allows his truck drivers to have steady paychecks during the winter and planting months. 

Matthews is also a licensed grain dealer for corn, soybeans, wheat, and barley and operates Deep Creek Grain (DCG) in Yadkin County for his commodities and 24 farms that sell through DCG. The company annually markets 750,000 bushels of corn, 250,000 bushels of soybeans, 75,000 bushels of wheat, and 20,000 bushels of barley. 

Another farm-related venture Matthews founded is Precision Nutrient Management, Inc. (PNM). Its purpose is to assist farmers with soil/tissue sampling to help decrease negative environmental impacts on land and preserve wildlife. “My daughter, Danielle Matthews Venable, is back on the farm full-time and operates PNM and provides diagnostic agronomy services on 16,000 acres.”

Danielle obtained a BS degree in Agribusines Management with minors in Economics and Crop Science from North Carolina State University. Besides her work with PNM, she controls the farm’s inventory and arranges the location of test plots. She also created a system for the farm to maintain all FSA maps and simplify the crop reporting process. Danielle’s husband, Garrett Venable, is a full-time firefighter out of Greensboro but works on the farm in his off time. He helps incorporate cover crops and plant soybeans and is learning how to operate equipment. 

Danielle and Garrett serve on the North Carolina Farm Bureau State Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. Danielle also serves as the Yadkin County Farm Bureau YF&R Committee Chair. Her brother, Timothy Matthews, works full-time at the farm where he maintains field borders, equipment, and operates the grain cart. He also manages wildlife within fields. Youngest daughter Megan is still in high school and enjoys participating in sports like volleyball and track. She pitches in on farm chores seasonally as needed.

In 2020, Kevin Matthews co-founded in partnership with a small group of other successful farmers. It’s a website dedicated to sharing agricultural techniques, past experiences, technology innovations, and first-hand agricultural failures and successes.

Matthews commented, “We provide farm tutorials with the goal of shortening the learning curve for other farmers who might be new, just beginning their careers, or who may be isolated from a mentor. Five seasoned farmers got together to share their collective knowledge about how to overcome extreme environmental, technological, and product challenges. It’s a stepping stone for the next generation to be better able to handle complex farm tasks and the inevitable challenges of market fluctuations, labor problems, and weather hazards.” 

He added, “It’s an electronic journal of practical advice on all kinds of topics like herbicide planning, tractor steering, business management, and irrigation, among other things. We’ve grown to the point where we’re now bringing in affiliates to help more with research and testing.”

On the county level, Matthews is a board member of Yadkin County Farm Bureau, serves on the Yadkin County Farm Bureau Field Crops Committee and its Bylaws Committee. He is also a Forbush volunteer first responder and firefighter as well as a trustee, treasurer, parliamentarian, and former deacon at Enon Baptist Church. On the state level Matthews serves on the North Carolina Farm Bureau Crop Advisory Committee, North Carolina State University Agronomy Teach Lab speaker, and has served on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Seed Board, Past President of North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association and the North Carolina Soybean Association. On the national level, he is active with the Ag PhD Research Plot High Yield Corn & Soybeans, has been a guest speaker at the Commodity Classic, and contributes to the Successful Farming Blog biweekly. 

Cindy Matthews is a member of the Yadkin County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, the Forbush FFA Alumni group, is a Special Olympics volunteer and belongs to the Baptist Young Women’s Association. She is a past member of the North Carolina Farm Bureau Women’s Committee and a voting delegate to its State Convention. The Matthews were also named Monsanto Young Farmer Family of the Year in 2004.

As part of his eco-friendly approach to farming, Matthews uses exclusive no-till practices along with sub-surface drip irrigation for intensive soil and crop management. These methods have increased his nutrient management while reducing the potential for erosion. Sub-surface drip irrigation (SDI) is a permanent system by Netafim that allows irrigation and fertigation all season long. It minimizes sprayer passes in fields and allows for precision nutrients to be spoon-fed to the crops. Tissue samples are collected to determine what nutrients are necessary, thereby preventing over-fertilizing. The suction end of the irrigation pump is a river screen, which is aquatic-environment friendly.

Matthews added, “Overall, the Netafim SDI system reduces water usage by directly targeting the crop’s root zone. Precision Nutrient Management, Inc. maintains all the farm’s soil and tissue samples. Fertilizer is spread using variable rate technology based on the sample reports. This prescriptive nutrient plan has reduced the need for fertilizer. The goal of precisely matching nutrients to plant production is to have a positive impact on the environment and create healthier wildlife habitats.”

Two of the challenges Matthews faced over the years are financing and weather. He said, “We farm river bottom land, so you can imagine what’s it’s like during hurricane season because we’re right in hurricane alley. The year 2020 saw some of the worst flooding—historical flooding—ever. Four of the last five years we’ve dealt with this problem. The other thing is financing to manage growth. Having a good ag lender can make all the difference, and we were blessed to work with the great agricultural consultant, Dr. David Kohl, and partner with Ag Carolina Farm Credit.”

Since the Matthews Family Farm’s operations are currently spread across a wide geographical area, they are leasing two farm shops. Their aim is to relocate to one large area with storage space for all commodities, a warehouse, a workshop, and an office at one location. This will, in the future, reduce time spent driving for parts and sorting inventory.

Each year the Matthews Family takes at least a week to spend time at the beach together. In the past they’ve used their fifth wheel for camping but now enjoy the occasional Airbnb or hotel on Okrakoke Island or at Myrtle Beach. They also enjoy trips out West to South Dakota to get a break from the heat. 

A few years ago, as part of his consulting work with Netafim Irrigation, Kevin and Cindy traveled to Israel and spent ten days touring agricultural enterprises all over the country. He recalled, “We were able to get a lot of work done in the mornings and then were freed up to visit places like Beersheba, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, and the Sea of Galilee. Being raised Southern Baptist, it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had traveling.”

Looking back on his three decades of farming, Matthews is grateful he was able to basically start from scratch and prove to himself and others that it’s possible to achieve success through hard work, being open to technology and innovation, and trying to share helpful knowledge with others along the way. As to future plans, Matthews’ vision is to step back from farm management within the next ten years and allow his children to take over the day-to-day operation and decision-making. He commented, “Our goal is to answer any questions Danielle, Garrett, and Timothy may have. I will stay involved with running equipment and experimental test plots because I enjoy learning about new techniques to apply across the farm.” 

He added, “Essentially what I’ve learned by being a farmer is that God is always in control. So you don’t have to sweat the things you can’t do anything about.” 

Callie Carson, North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation Field Representative and Safety Team Lead nominated Kevin Matthews as North Carolina Farmer of the Year. She said, “It was my pleasure to nominate Kevin Matthews for this honor. Kevin is goal-oriented, hardworking, and, most importantly, willing to share his knowledge with others through speaking engagements and through the platform. His enthusiasm to see all farmers succeed truly sets him apart. Kevin and Cindy Matthews are a traditional farm family, with adult children working beside them as decision makers. They’ve established a clear succession plan that will ensure the farm’s viability and continuance far into the future.”

As the STATE winner of the Swisher/Sunbelt Ag Expo award, Kevin Matthews will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida. A vest from the Sunbelt Ag Expo will be given to each state winner and nominator. Syngenta will donate $500 to the state winner’s charity of choice. The Moultrie Colquitt Co. Chamber of Commerce will give each state winner a local keepsake.

Matthews is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner by Swisher. Massey Ferguson North America will provide each state winner with a gift package and the overall winner with the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours (whichever comes first). A jacket from the Sunbelt Ag Expo will be given to the overall winner. Syngenta will provide an additional $500 donation to the charity of choice for the overall winner who will also receive a Hays LTI Smoker/Grill. In addition, the overall winner will receive a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation.

Swisher and the Sunbelt Ag Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 32nd consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,244,000 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; Danny Kornegay of Princeton, 2015; Jerry Wyant of Vale, 2016; and Van Hemrick of Hamptonville, 2017; Howard Brown of Andrews, 2018, and Johnny Wishon of Sparta, 2019; James L. Lamb of Clinton, 2020.

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