Throughout the 2022 growing season, USSOY.org will provide regular Ground Work updates from several U.S. soybean farmers around the country. Follow their updates, #GroundWork2022, to learn about their farms and commitment to producing a reliable, sustainable supply of high-quality soy.
Reggie Strickland farms near Mount Olive, North Carolina, in the southeastern U.S. He is the seventh generation of his family to farm the sandy ground about 135 km, or 85 miles, north of the Port of Wilmington, North Carolina, on the Atlantic Ocean. His farm is about the same distance south of the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, area, headquarters to U.S. offices of some agricultural input companies.
“We don’t know exactly when our ancestors started farming, but my family has been farming in this area since the 1860s,” Reggie says. “We still farm much of that land today, 160 years later.”
Reggie grew up focused on farming, while his father, Garrett, spent much of his time managing other family businesses, including tobacco warehouses and an agricultural supply store. He returned to the small family farm in 1987, after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in agribusiness management. He supplemented farm income by spending winters working for a farm management program managed through North Carolina State University.
As he looked for ways to stabilize farm income and move toward farming full time, Reggie began finishing pigs in 1990 for an area family pork farm, Prestage Farms.
“It was a great way to diversify in our region,” he explains. “Pork production was growing rapidly, and pork producers were looking for farmers to help care for pigs.”
He continues to raise pigs for the same company today. They now have about 9,000 pigs to care for daily. The pigs arrive at the farm weighing about 20 kg, or 45 pounds, and they grow to about 136 kg, or 300 pounds. Most of this pork is sold domestically, but some of it is exported through the Port of Wilmington.
Reggie married his wife Laura in 1993. Laura manages her family’s financial planning business, as well as helping with financial management of the farm. They have two children. Their daughter Savannah works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in a nearby county office. Their son Grayson is studying accounting at North Carolina State University.
Reggie has grown the farm in both size and diversity. In 2017, he continued diversifying in animal agriculture by raising turkeys for Butterball, a U.S. turkey brand. Their turkey barns house 51,000 turkeys.
He embraced diversification as he learned it from his maternal grandfather as a young child. “My granddaddy often said, ‘It doesn’t matter what the price is if you don’t have it to sell,’ and he grew all kinds of vegetables and crops on his small farm,” Reggie explains. “That has influenced how I manage the farm.”
In addition to pigs and turkeys, today the farm includes nearly 1,620 hectares, or about 4,000 acres, of crops. Reggie currently raises soybeans, corn, flue-cured tobacco, sweet potatoes and pickling cucumbers.
“We have raised nearly every kind of vegetable that can grow in our area in the past,” he says. “We also used to grow cotton and manage a cotton gin, but prices weren’t friendly to that business, so we sold the gin and shifted to other crops. The demand for protein continues to grow, and we are positioned well to meet it.”
He raises seed soybeans to help meet that demand. All the soybeans he plants will become seed for other farmers to plant next year, providing high-quality soybean meal that feeds his pigs and turkeys. The corn he raises also becomes livestock feed for pork and poultry production, as he delivers it to one of the many feed mills less than 50 km, or 30 miles, from his farm.
His other crops fit his soil type, crop rotation and farming operation. The pickling cucumbers go to Mt. Olive Pickles, the largest pickle company in the U.S., or one of the other pickle companies in the area. In the past, many of the sweet potatoes were exported to Europe, but with recent supply chain challenges, more of them have remained in the domestic market. His family has raised flue-cured tobacco for generations. They dry the leaves of tobacco plants in small barns that look like shipping containers and sell them directly to manufacturers or leaf dealers.
While his father Garrett still lives on the home farm and is engaged in the farm, Reggie manages the bulk of the work with the help of two full-time employees. The pickling cucumbers, sweet potatoes and tobacco are harvested primarily by hand, so they rely heavily on seasonal labor, as well.
“Hurricanes have caused major challenges for our farm in the last few years, so we continue to adapt and diversify to stay in business,” Reggie says. “It’s all part of telling our farm story, which I believe is important.”
The passion to tell his story and the example in his family of public service has led to Reggie’s involvement in agriculture industry leadership. He serves on state association boards for both soybean and pork production. He represents North Carolina and U.S. soybean farmers as a United Soybean Board director. And, he is also starting to serve on the U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC), where he will bring his crop and poultry production experience to supporting access to high-quality protein for customers around the world.
“It’s a privilege to provide high-quality protein, both through soybean meal, pork and poultry products,” he says. “I work every day to help provide both the quantity and quality of soy the rest of the world needs. And I deeply appreciate their trust and their business.”
Throughout 2022, Reggie will provide regular updates on USSOY.org describing his role in providing that high-quality protein, along with other crops. Strickland Farming Group can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.