Award-winning farmer doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket
Diversification makes good business sense, according to Virginia’s 2017 Farmer of the Year.
“I have cattle, poultry, four different types of tobacco. I’m not focused on one particular market,” says Robert Mills Jr., whose 2,244-acre Briar View Farm in the Callands area of Pittsylvania County also produces vegetables and winter wheat.
Mills was nominated for the award by Stephen Barts, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Pittsylvania. “Robert’s intensive management of all aspects of his operation has been vital to Briar View’s success,” Barts said in a statement.
Mills is not from a farm family. He took an agriculture class and joined the Future Farmers of America when he was in the eighth grade. “After about three weeks, I told my mom and dad, ‘I know what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ They laughed and said, ‘We don’t have money, land or equipment.’”
Mills pursued his ambition initially by renting a few acres of land to grow vegetables that he sold directly to customers. “That became the start of my farming career,” Mills said. “I started with zero capital and took a risk with each loan.”
Today he oversees a herd of about 300 Angus-cross beef cattle. “We watch the market. We have price risk protection; we lock in the price,” he says. “That gives us a little more insurance. I can keep myself flexible on when I’m going to sell. When the price goes down, I get rid of calves right off of their mama.”
Mills is a contract grower for Perdue Farms, raising pullet breeder chickens in his 20,000-square-foot pullet house. “Perdue gives me the birds. It gives Perdue the flexibility to do what they need to do,” he says. “It gives me a steady income every month.”
Mills also sees the advantage of growing different types of tobacco. “We contract with multiple companies. Today I took a certain type of tobacco to sell. With another type, I wouldn’t have had as good a sales day,” he says.
Mills is a Virginia Tech alumnus and a member of the university’s board of visitors, its governing authority.
As a former conservation specialist, he practices environmentally sustainable farming and his farm earned a clean water award from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Mills has also been named Southeastern Farmer of the Year at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga. (Read story)