While attending college and studying business, a burning desire Tommy Porter, Jr., had developed as a youngster while working on a small farm in Mecklenburg County never left him — to earn a living as a full-time farmer.

Even while working as a general contractor building homes, the dream and desire continued.

“Working as a contractor gave me the opportunity to still take care of the small farm and work on building capital to expand our operation,” says Porter. “But it was difficult to expand as the farm was close to Charlotte.”

In the early 1980s, he and his wife Vicky made a bold move. They purchased a farm in Concord and began an operation that has led to Porter being selected as the 2006 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of Year for North Carolina. He was selected for the honor in judging conducted by the North Carolina Farm Bureau and was nominated by Karen McKnight.

Porter now joins eight other Southeastern state winners as a finalist for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award for 2006, which will be announced during the Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie, Ga., on Tuesday, Oct. 17.

As the North Carolina state winner, Porter will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a jacket and a $200 gift certificate from the Williamson-Dickie Company, a commemorative fireproof home safe from Misty Morn Safe Co., and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States. He is also now eligible for the $14,000 that will go to the overall winner and the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award for the 17th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed more than $700,000 in cash awards and other honors since the award was initiated in 1990.

The Porter operation has been expanded to more than 650 acres today with swine, poultry and beef cattle as the backbone. Matua grass, fescue/clover and fescue clover used for pasture grazing also are included.

The swine is a farrow-to-wean operation and includes 2,200 sows. There are four pullet houses that house more than 62,000 birds while the beef cattle (cow/calf) operation includes 285 brood cows.

A major problem Porter faces is preserving the integrity of the environment and being a good neighbor, especially with the swine and poultry operations. His two neighbors include a church and daycare center.

“All of the waste by-product is used to either fertilize pasture land, irrigate pastures or used as compost material. We do not irrigate any pastureland near the church when activities are taking place,” he says. “No irrigation takes place near the day care center during its business hours.”

There are also plans to expand in the future. “We would like to expand our cattle herd as land becomes available,” says Porter. “We would also like to increase the poultry operation with the addition of two more houses and add a herd of meat goats.”

Porter’s wife, Vicky, also works on the farm full time. They have three children — son Derek (24) graduated this summer from UNC Charlotte with a BS in criminal justice; son Jared (22) graduated from Appalachian State in May and is studying at the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Academy; and daughter Erin is a rising senior at Mt. Pleasant High School.

Previous state winners from North Carolina include: John Vollmer of Bunn, 1990; Kenneth Jones of Pink Hill, 1991; John Howard, Jr. of Deep Run, 1992; Carlyle Ferguson of Waynesville, 1993; Dick Tunnell of Swan Quarter, 1994; Allan Lee Baucom of Monroe, 1995; Scott Whitford of Grantsboro, 1996; William Covington, Sr. of Mebane, 1997; Phil McLain of Statesville, 1998; Earl Hendrix of Raeford, 1999; Reid Gray of Statesville, 2000; Rusty Cox of Monroe, 2001; Craven Register of Clinton, 2002; Frank Howey, Jr. of Monroe, 2003; Eddie Johnson, Jr., of Elkin, 2004; and Danny McConnell of Hendersonville, 2005.

Eddie Johnson of Elkin became North Carolina’s first Southeastern Farmer of the Year when he captured the award in 2004.