As a youngster adventuring through Aynor High School, William Johnson of Conway had a dream — to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a farmer.

Instead of staying after school for football practice, he chose to drive home to help out on the family farm.

“I would have loved to play football,” says Johnson. “But it was more important for me to go home and help out on the farm.”

And it’s a decision that has paid off handsomely for the 29-year-old Johnson. He started his own operation in 1996 with 240 acres and today directs a 2,100-acre farm and has been selected as the 2007 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for South Carolina. He was chosen for the honor in judging conducted by the Clemson University Extension Service and nominated by Bruce Johnson.

Row crops, with tobacco as the mainstay, highlight Johnson’s 2,100-acre operation. There are 50 acres of tobacco today (down from 85) that yield 2,500 pounds per acre.

Also included are 1,250 acres of corn, yielding 150 bushels per acre and 700 acres of soybeans with a yield of 56 bushels per acre. Wheat covers 150 acres and produces 80 bushels per acre.

Rounding out his operation are 250 acres of oats, yielding 130 bushels per acre.

“My tobacco crop is contracted with Phillip Morris and I transport it to a warehouse in Mullins, S.C.,” says Johnson. “After I harvest my grain crops, I communicate with stockbrokers.”

Johnson also owns White Oak Grain LLC that has bloomed into a 500,000-bushel capacity facility.

“I plan to keep enhancing my grain operation to better serve the fellow farmers in my area and community,” he adds.

Johnson and his wife Tara have one daughter, two-year-old Abby Lee.

Previous state winners from South Carolina include C. E. Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 1990; Charles Snowden of Hemingway, 1991; Robert E. Connelly, Sr. of Ulmer, 1992; Henry Elliott, Sr. of Andrews, 1993; Ron Stephenson of Chester, 1994; Greg Hyman of Conway, 1995; Randy Lovett of Nichols, 1996; David Drew of Mullins, 1997; Jerry Edge of Conway, 1998; Blake McIntyre, III of Marion, 1999; Raymond Galloway of Darlington, 2000; W. R. Simpson of Manning, 2001; Gill Rogers of Hartsville, 2002; Harold Pitts of Newberry, 2003; Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 2004; Chalmers Carr of Ridge Spring, 2005; and Steve Gamble of Sardinia, 2006.

South Carolina has had one overall winner with Ron Stephenson of Chester being selected as the Southeastern Farmer of the Year in 1994.