A son and grandson of sharecroppers, first generation Angus breeder Kevin Yon and his family from Ridge Spring, S.C., have established Yon Family Farms as one of the best Angus seedstock herds in the nation. Yon is a leader in the beef industry and in Angus organizations.
As a result of his success as a beef producer, Yon has been selected as 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. 16 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
The Yon farm encompasses some 4,258 acres with 2,515 acres of rented land and 1,743 acres of owned land.
Each year, they sell about 375 bulls and 150 females in two on-farm sales. They also sell cattle in private treaty sales. Their herd includes about 1,200 registered breeding age females, 590 commercial breeding age females and 90 steers and heifers that are fed out.
The Yons retain ownership on calves not sold for breeding, and feed most of them in a Kansas feedlot. They also feed out calves on their farm that are marketed through an Augusta, Ga., processing facility.
In the future, they may embark upon a cattle buy-back program for customers who buy their bulls. “Our success depends on their success, and we may see what we can do to help market their calves,” Yon explains.
As a group, forages are Yon’s most important crops. He plants small grains and last year, these crops on 695 acres yielded four tons of round bale silage per acre. He produced bermudagrass hay on 642 acres yielding six tons per acre.
He has successfully grown the Bulldog 805 and Alfagraze 600 alfalfa varieties. This alfalfa on 20 acres yielded six tons of hay per acre last year. Yon also grows corn on about 600 acres for both grain and silage.
This year, he’s growing his first soybeans. “I’m mainly growing the soybeans for crop rotation,” he explains.
He started growing pecans in 2016, and says pecans offer diversification. He looks forward to a new national promotion program for the pecan industry. “Pecans have the potential to become much more than just a holiday food,” he says.
Yon and his family also owns a retail store in Ridge Spring where they sell their pecan products and other South Carolina-grown products. Kevin hopes this store can help expand the sales of his own beef products.
He bought his first commercial herd of cattle while in high school. Kevin and his wife Lydia both grew up in Anderson County, S.C. They met when they were animal science students at Clemson University. “On our dates, we would go check my cattle,” Kevin recalls.
After graduation, Kevin worked for seven years managing the beef herd at Congaree Farms near Columbia, S.C. To start his own herd, he was able to buy half of the Congaree Farms Angus herd. “We earned an equity in 20 of the 100 head we bought by taking a reduced salary,” he recalls.
The Yons then moved to the Ridge Spring where they improved and expanded their Angus herd.
Prior to moving, one of their big breaks came when one of their bull customers offered to sell them 100 acres and a small house. “He and his brother agreed to lease us additional land,” recalls Yon. “We traded our labor in managing his cattle for the use of his equipment. That was a tremendous benefit in helping us get started here.”
They were also recruited to the area by Extension agent Phil Perry. Kevin said, “This area had a good infrastructure. For instance, a viable poultry industry gave us access to poultry litter. We could also rent land in close proximity to our small farm.”
When it was difficult to obtain loans from commercial lenders, Kevin was able to obtain financing from the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers loan program of the USDA-Farm Service Agency.
The Yons have hosted many high school student workers and college student interns on their farm. “We feel we are living out a dream,” says Kevin. “So many people gave us opportunities, we feel we should give back to agriculture, to host tours, meetings and to provide work for college student interns and school age helpers.” The Yons also have ten permanent employees.
Yon is currently serving as president of the 25,000-member American Angus Association. He served on its board for six years and also served as the organization’s treasurer and vice president. He has chaired boards of three Angus Association subsidiaries. One is the Certified Angus Beef organization. Another is Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI). The third is Angus Productions, Inc., which handles communications and media for the breed.
He also helped to lead the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium aimed at helping universities conduct beef cattle evaluations.
In 2009, the Yon farm received the National Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
On the state level, Kevin has served as president of South Carolina’s Cattlemen’s Association and Angus Association. He was a vice chairman of the South Carolina Forage and Grassland Council. He has served on advisory councils for Clemson University’s Animal Science Department and Extension Service. He also served on several state Farm Bureau committees.
Kevin and Lydia work as a team. They’re active in Ridge Spring Baptist Church. They’ve supported Ridge Spring-Monetta public schools. Kevin has served as president and on the board of Saluda County Cattlemen’s Association. He’s vice chairman of the Saluda Soil & Water Conservation District. He is also a longtime board member of Saluda County Farm Bureau.
Lydia has been a 4-H volunteer and an FFA livestock judging coach. She served on the board of the South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association and as secretary of the South Carolina Angus Association. She has been on Clemson University’s Board of Visitors, and has been active in the American Angus Auxiliary, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the American Angus Association.
The Yons are especially proud that their three children and two of their children’s spouses have come back to work on the home farm. They have a daughter, Sally, and two sons, Drake and Corbin.
Kevin, Drake and Corbin are all active in the Ridge Spring Volunteer Fire Department.
Sally works on the farm in marketing and in taking daily care of the cattle. Her husband Reid Harrison contributes with his knowledge of genetics and performance data.
Sons Corbin and Drake manage the pecans and the row crops. Drake is a director of the Saluda County and South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association. Drake chairs the Saluda Farm Bureau Young Farmers. Drake’s wife Nicole is a registered dietician and helps manage the pecan grove and the retail store.
Brian Callahan, associate director with Clemson Extension, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Yon was nominated for the honor by Travis Mitchell, area livestock and forages Extension agent. “Kevin and Lydia have built their farm on honesty, integrity, hard work and never cutting corners,” says Mitchell.
As the South Carolina state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Yon 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 and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 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 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 29th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,120,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous state winners from South Carolina include: Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 1990; Charles Snowden of Hemingway, 1991; Robert E. Connelly, Sr. of Ulmer, 1992; Henry Elliott, Sr. of Andrews, 1993; Ron Stephenson of Chester, 1994; Greg Hyman of Conway, 1995; Randy Lovett of Nichols, 1996; David Drew of Mullins, 1997; Jerry Edge of Conway, 1998; Blake McIntyre, III of Marion, 1999; Raymond Galloway of Darlington, 2000; W. R. Simpson of Manning, 2001; Gill Rogers of Hartsville, 2002; Harold Pitts of Newberry, 2003; Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 2004; Chalmers Carr of Ridge Spring, 2005; Steve Gamble of Sardinia, 2006; William Johnson of Conway, 2007; Kent Wannamaker of St. Matthews, 2008; Thomas DuRant of Gable, 2009; Marty Easler of Greeleyville, 2010; Kevin Elliott of Nichols, 2011; Monty Rast of Cameron, 2012; James Cooley of Chesnee, 2013; Walter Dantzler of Santee, 2014; Tom Trantham of Pelzer, 2015; Kerry Owen of Pickens, 2016; and Kemp McLeod of McBee, 2017.
South Carolina has had two overall winners, Ron Stephenson of Chester in 1994 and James Cooley of Chesnee in 2013.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit Yon’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 6-10. The judges this year include Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist from Greenville, Miss.; beef cattle rancher Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, Fla., who was the overall winner in 2009; and John McKissick, longtime University of Georgia ag economist from Athens, Ga.