Phillip DeSalvo of Center Ridge, Ark., embraced a ground-floor opportunity to develop a new breed of cattle called Ultrablack.

DeSalvo has persevered despite adversities such as drought, a devastating tornado and losing a contract to grow broiler chickens. His Big D Ranch is now recognized as a top source for both purebred and commercial beef cattle.

As a result of his success as a beef producer, DeSalvo has been selected as the Arkansas state winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

DeSalvo joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

A fifth generation farmer, DeSalvo’s ancestors emigrated from Italy and settled in Arkansas. DeSalvo has farmed full time since 2003 and now has 1,350 acres, with 1,100 acres rented from nearby relatives and 250 acres of owned land.

In 2008, he lost his contract to grow broilers for Pilgrim’s Pride. He worked closely with his Farm Credit lender to focus on increasing his beef herd to help pay off his chicken house loans. “Farm Credit stood by us, and we have been very pleased to work with them,” says DeSalvo.

He converted the chicken houses to indoor feedlots for weaned calves and to calving barns for first-calf heifers. He collects the manure from the old chicken house floors to spread on his pastures. He also converted his litter shed to a commodity barn.

The tornado hit his community in 2008, damaging farm buildings and scattering debris in hay fields at the time the hay needed to be cut. “We were able to rise above that disaster with the help of many friends and family members,” he recalls.