As urban growth near Charlotte has expanded, the farm of Frank Howey Jr., has grown at an equal rate. In 32 years of farming, Howey from Monroe, N.C., has become one of the largest farmers in the area and state.

He specializes in row crops, wheat, soybeans and corn, and has a small cattle herd. He operates close to 21,000 acres of which 3,500 acres are rented and 17,500 acres are owned.

As a result of his success as a crop farmer, Howey has been selected as the North Carolina winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Howie joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

He has already won major farming awards—FFA Star American Farmer in 1987, American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award in 1995 and was a Swisher/Sunbelt state Farmer of the Year in 2003.

He uses no irrigation yet produces impressive yields. Last year’s per acre yields were 185 bushels of corn from 6,000 acres, 81 bushels of wheat from 9,100 acres and 68 bushels of full season soybeans from 1,100 acres. Weather hurt last year’s doublecropped soybeans, but those he harvested yielded 51 bushels per acre. He also has about 1,500 acres of timber.

Howey conserves moisture with no-till planting. Too much moisture can be a problem, so he’s planning to install drain tile on additional land. He was an innovator in growing 15-inch corn. He also uses a 40-foot-wide combine header, one of the first 32-row headers designed for harvesting 15-inch corn.

His normal rotation is corn, followed by wheat, followed by soybeans for three crops in two years. He has also pioneered in wheat-corn doublecropping. “We have grown 200-bushel corn following outstanding 90-bushel wheat,” he adds.

Howey has won state soybean yield contests, and production efficiency contests by producing soybeans for the lowest cost per bushel.

This year, he’s raising about 11,000 acres of wheat. He broadcasts and incorporates wheat seed into the soil using minimum tillage.

His 60-head cowherd adds diversity to his operation, and he can graze his cropland during winter months. He sells weaned calves at about 670 pounds, and gets higher prices by using graded feeder calf sales.

He markets his grain crops using hedging, futures contracts, hedge-to-arrive contracts, basis contracts and crop options. “The time I spend on marketing is invaluable,” he adds. “Quality grain is very important in developing long term markets. I also sell deer corn to local hunters for a premium.”

He’s a strong believer in using on-farm grain storage for better marketing. He recently built new grain storage facilities, and now has access to about 880,000 bushels of storage.

Howey is a licensed real estate broker in North and South Carolina, and saves money when buying farms and timberland. He’s leasing 34 acres to a solar power provider and has more land available for solar farms. He has sold land for parks, industrial expansion, a county agricultural center and for other projects that benefit the people of Union County.

He leases out hunting land that he manages to enhance wildlife habitat.  He has also taken part in stream conservation projects to improve water quality.

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In addition, he has used permanent conservation easements to preserve some of his farmland for generations to come. “This prime farmland was highly sought after for development because of its proximity to Charlotte,” he explains. “Preserving it as farmland was the most important thing to me.”

Howey is a seed dealer for the Monsanto, Asgrow and DeKalb brands. He is also growing and selling wheat seed for Limagrain Cereal Seeds. His seed work gives him early access to promising new varieties. “I am one of the largest farmer-seed dealers in the Southeast,” he adds.

He delegates authority to key employees, including Robbie Ratliff and John Rogers, two of his farm managers. Fran Bringham is his office manager. He also hires H-2A guest workers from other countries, including Louw Gerrike, a South African who manages his grain elevators.