Thomas Porter, Jr., from Concord, NC, has been selected as the 2011 overall winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award at the Sunbelt Ag Expo this week in Moultrie, GA.

Porter was initially named winner of the 2011 North Carolina Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the year, before being chosen as overall Farmer of the Year over eight other state finalists for the 2011 award. The Farmer of the Year award recognizes excellence in agricultural production and management, along with leadership in community and farm organizations. The award also honors family contributions in producing safe and abundant supplies of food, fiber and shelter products for U.S. consumers.

J. Thomas Ryan, president of Swisher International, Inc, of Jacksonville, FL, praises Porter for his farming success. “Thomas and his family represent the best of American agriculture,” Ryan says. “He is an excellent environmental steward and an individual who gives back to the farming community through his leadership in many farm organizations. His wife Vicky is also a strong contributor and an outstanding leader in her own right.”

Porter is a contract grower of both hogs and chickens. He raises hogs under contract for Murphy-Brown on his 2,200-sow farrow-to-wean operation which is also designated as a Murphy-Brown multiplier unit. In addition to the swine operation, Porter grows broiler pullets and produces eggs from broiler layers for Tyson Foods.

He farms 850 acres of land and uses effluent from the swine lagoon to irrigate his 110 acres of Matua bromegrass. Poultry litter is used to fertilize pastures and hay fields. Porter built his beef cattle herd from five cows to the current 300 Herefort-Angus cow herd.

Porter grew up on a dairy farm where he developed his strong desire to become a full time farmer. He built his farm largely on his own. He worked at off-farm jobs, as a pipe fitter, welder, and building contractor. He saved enough money to invest the earnings from his off-farm work in his new farm. While working at these off-farm jobs, he never lost his desire to earn his living as a full-time farmer. “My family and I established and built this farm,” Porter says. “All of my income is from the farm, and I appreciate what the farm contributes to our livelihood.”

“It is a great honor to have been selected for this award,” Porter continues. “I’ve known of the high standards for this award since I was named as a state winner in 2006. To be named again as a state winner, and then to have been selected as the overall winner is a humbling experience. All of the state winners are outstanding farmers who are effective leaders and who are strongly supported by their families.”

The new Farmer of the Year was selected for the honor by three judges who visited his farm and the farms of the other state winners during August. The judges commented that they were impressed with the appearance of Porter’s farm and his environmental stewardship. In particular, they admired how well he gets along with his farm’s nearest neighbors, a children’s daycare center and a church. Porter takes great care not to apply lagoon effluent through irrigation anywhere near these facilities during the business hours of the childcare facility and when activities are scheduled at the church.

The judges also admired the support the Porters receive from their family. Their sons Derek and Jared work at off-farm jobs, but also work at the farm during time off from their main jobs. Their daughter Erin handles payroll and accounts receivable for the farming operation. Jared’s wife Colleen manages the poultry layer operation for the farm.

As the Southeastern Farmer of the Year, Porter will receive a $15,000 cash award from Swisher International. He will also receive the use of a tractor of his choice for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, gift certificates totaling $1,000 from Southern States and a custom made Canvasback gun safe from Misty Morn Safe Co. He will also receive a jacket, $500 gift certificate and $500 in cash from the Williamson-Dickie clothing company.

Other state winners this year include Andy Wendland of Autaugaville, AL., Michael Oxner of Searcy, AR., Ron St. John of Trenton, FL., Carlos Vickers of Nashville, GA., Scott Cannada of Edwards, MS., Kevin Elliott of Nichols, SC., Mac Pate of Maryville, TN, and Donald Horsley of Virginia Beach, VA.

Learn more about the Southeastern Farmer of the Year online at http://www.sunbeltexpo.com/.