Brandon Batten and Jessica Batten have been nominated to represent North Carolina as finalists for the 2019 Outstanding Young Farmer Award by the Outstanding Young Farmers of America. Brandon Batten received his bachelor’s degree in 2008 and his master’s degree in 2010. Jessica received her bachelor’s degree in 2010.
What does this nomination mean to you?
Being nominated for the National Outstanding Young Farmer award is a tremendous honor and has been a very humbling experience. Throughout the application process, the help and support I have received from Cooperative Extension, colleagues from NC State, and my community have been awesome. The criteria for selection are progress in agricultural career, environmental conservation, and contributions to local, state, and national communities. To be selected as one of the top ten finalists in the country is a great acknowledgement and confirmation that I am doing things right and doing things that matter. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent North Carolina as a finalist for the 2019 award.
What are some recent activities and innovations that you think led to this nomination?
I think the single biggest thing that helped me with this nomination is just being involved. I am involved in our local volunteer fire department, our church, and several organizations throughout the community. I am also involved in various research projects with NC State and Cooperative Extension on our farm. This wide network gives me a lot of exposure to a lot of different people to tell my story and help shape the public opinion of agriculture in my community.
What were some recent challenges you faced (either in this season or year) and how did you overcome them?
Agriculture is full of challenges. So much of what I do is dependent on things out of my control. Tariffs have impacted our operation since most of the tobacco we produce is for export. The weather has been a huge challenge the last few years. We have had 2 occurrences of 500-year rainfall storms in the last 3 years with Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. In 2018 alone, we have had over 60” of rain. Most of our crops can’t handle this amount of water, not to mention the winds that came with Florence. We have diversified our crop rotation to spread our harvest out over a longer window, allowing us to begin earlier and harvest longer to allow for weather delays. However, a storm like Florence can’t be overcome in a single season. We are working to repair flood damage and are re-evaluating our crop plans for next year to make sure that we are planting the best crops to take advantage of current market trends. Another big challenge is the rising cost of labor. With the high labor requirement of tobacco, we have been able to combat this rising cost through mechanization and increasing our efficiency. We are using mechanical harvesters with automated box loading equipment and automated baling equipment to reduce the amount of manpower we need.
What are some future projects or areas that you’d like to take on?
I am really interested in industrial hemp. This is a crop that has the potential to compete as a new cash crop for NC farmers. I am excited about the possibility for farm-scale extraction and processing of this crop that would allow farmers to add value at the farm level without having to involve a separate processor. Hemp production and processing will be a great opportunity for BAE to be involved in the development of the technology that farmers will be able to implement on the farm. I am also excited about the tobacco harvester applied growth regulator project that we have been a partner with the last 2 years. I think we are making great progress toward revolutionizing the way that growth regulators are applied to tobacco, resulting in fewer passes across the field while reducing undesirable residues in the cured leaf.
How did you time at NC State and in BAE prepare you for where you are now?
My time at NC State and especially in BAE are a great foundation for what I am doing now. I think the current motto “Think and Do” sums up what I learned that I use on the farm every day. The hands-on experiences I had in BAE in the research shop with senior design, the quarter-scale tractor team, and other classes gave me insight in how to take solutions from concept to implementation. There is no department that does a better job at providing these experiences than BAE. Learning to think outside the box and develop creative solutions to complex problems has proven to be most useful on the farm. Being part of the university community and student clubs such as University Scholars and ASABE helped me develop the leadership and communication skills that I use today in the organizations that I am involved in. Being a life-long learner is also an important lesson imparted on me through BAE and NC State. After graduation, programs through NC State, such as the Agricultural Leadership Development Program and the new Executive Farm Management program, have helped me to continue to develop my leadership abilities and expand my professional network with others in the agriculture industry.
What advice would you give to someone interested in farming?
I am sure that there are many easier ways to make a living than farming, but I am not sure there is any better way. Someone interested in farming should engage their local Cooperative Extension office and find out about opportunities for workshops and grants for beginning farmers. The capital required to start farming is a huge barrier. It may be necessary to have a full-time career and start a farm slowly if starting from scratch. Another option would be connecting with a current farmer to help gain experience and advice toward developing their own operation. Farming is often thankless, hard work with long hours and less than adequate benefits. A passion for agriculture is required to be successful.