Kevin Elliott of Nichols, S.C., is carrying on a family tradition of tobacco farming.

Along the way, he has also become an excellent grower of corn, soybeans and wheat.

As a result of his success as a tobacco and row crop farmer, Elliott has been selected as the 2011 South Carolina winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Elliott now joins eight other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award.

The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

Elliott’s farm consists of 600 acres with 150 acres of rented land and 450 acres of owned land. Last year, he grew flue cured tobacco on 60 acres yielding 2,500 pounds per acre, corn on 200 acres yielding 150 bushels per acre, soybeans on 300 acres yielding 42 bushels per acre and wheat on 150 acres yielding 75 bushels per acre.

At times, he has produced higher yields, 3,200 pounds per acre for tobacco, 47 bushels per acre for soybeans, 90 bushels per acre for wheat and 175 bushels per acre for corn. And he has produced even higher corn yields that he grew in his yield contest entries.

He has also been a consistent winner in National Corn Growers Association yield contests. He won his first yield contest in 1995 and won the 2010 state corn yield contest in the ridge-till non-irrigated category with a yield of 197 bushels per acre.

“I sell my tobacco by contract to R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company,” he explains. “I price my corn, soybeans and wheat and deliver those crops to a local grain elevator.”

This year, he’s selling tobacco from 23 acres to an R. J. Reynolds subsidiary, the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.

Santa Fe specializes in buying tobacco that is free of pesticide residues. Farmers who grow this tobacco use only certain pesticides and fertilizers, those that rapidly break down in the environment.

After curing, this tobacco is tested for pesticide residues. Some farmers begin with this type of tobacco as a first step before growing organic tobacco.

“With this tobacco, we can not use maleic hydrazide (MH) for sucker control,” explains Elliott. “We also are prohibited from using ripening agents and certain herbicides. My tobacco that I’m growing for Santa Fe has had no herbicides for weed control, and it actually looks better than our other tobacco where we used herbicides. A good rolling cultivator is key for keeping the tobacco free of weeds.”

His farm employs 10 full time workers and he hires 10 more on a part time basis during tobacco harvesting season.