What is in this article?:
- Will Harris: Sunbelt Expo Farmer of the Year for Georgia
- Essential to long-term plans
- Ambitious undertakings
- Rewards as Georgia winner
• As a result of his success as an organic farm owner and diversified livestock producer, Harris has been selected as the Georgia state winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
Essential to long-term plans
“These enterprises are a small part of our overall volume, but they are essential to our long-term plans and the core values of our family and farm,” says Harris.
“My family has raised livestock on this land for 147 years,” says Harris. “Members of our family’s fifth generation now work this land. We’ve created 85 full-time jobs for non-family members in an economically deprived county.”
Vertical integration, controlling processing and marketing of the products he produces, allows Harris to capture more of the retail value for his products than if he simply sold live animals on a commodity basis.
“We market our branded products to add value to our farm,” he adds. “We are the largest privately owned employer in this area. We are profitable, and the future looks bright.”
Harris is also proud of the animal welfare and environmental stewardship standards met by White Oak Pastures.
To make the farm an attractive workplace for his children, he started the transformation to its current grass fed emphasis during the mid 1990’s. This required borrowed capital, and he operated at a loss for several years. “Our business caught traction and began to turn a profit before we got into serious financial trouble,” he says.
This move included giving up feeding grain, using hormone implants and antibiotics. The transition also featured multi-species rotational grazing similar to that used on the Serengeti Plains of Africa. In this system, cattle graze first, followed by small ruminants such as sheep and goats, and then poultry.
By 2000, he stopped using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. “It was economically painful, but we did it,” says Harris.
In 2007, he built the beef abattoir and in 2011 he built the poultry abattoir. His farm is now the only one in the U.S. to have both beef and poultry abattoirs on the same property. He uses solar power to help run his processing plants. “Our red meat and poultry species are slaughtered in our own USDA-inspected meat and poultry abattoirs,” says Harris.
Nothing goes to waste. Blood, bones and viscera from the slaughtered animals are used to make soil amendments applied to his pastures and organic garden.