AF TER JUST T WO weeks in an eighth grade vocational agriculture
class, Robert Mills, Jr., had decided he wanted to become a farmer
— and he defied everyone who told him he couldn’t do it.
Mills says his boyhood dream has come true with his Briar View
Farm at Callands, Va. The successful first generation farmer grows
four types of tobacco, has an Angus cross beef herd, and raises
pullet breeder chickens. His life, he says, is a testament to the
positive impact that agriculture education and FFA can have on
Mills’ success as a diversified farmer has resulted in his
being named state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo
Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He joins nine other
individuals as finalists for the overall award that will be announced
Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the Sunbelt Expo farm show at Moultrie, Ga.
His farm has 2,244 acres, 1,650 acres rented and 594 acres
owned. Diversity characterizes his tobacco operation. Last year,
he grew 67 acres of conventional flue-cured tobacco that yielded
2,800 pounds per acre, 20 acres of organic flue-cured tobacco that
yielded 3,000 pounds per acre, and 3 acres of dark-fired tobacco
yielding 2,400 pounds per acre. He also grew a 5 acre tobacco
plot as a potential biofuel, harvesting both the leaves and the tall
stalks. Sugars were squeezed out and the tobacco was packed as if
it were silage. The yield was 20 tons per acre.
“I was surprised that the organic tobacco out-yielded the
conventional tobacco,” says Mills. Organic tobacco commands
a premium price, and undergoes a third party audit to verify
that no prohibited pesticides are applied to the crop. He sells
both conventional and organic tobacco to the Japan-based J TI
company. This year, he’s adding three new tobacco curing barns
with automatic controls.
He’s growing about 15 acres of soybeans for hay, and grows pearl
millet for forage and grain on 30 acres of otherwise idle land. He
also shares sweet corn from his garden with his landlords.
Last year, winter wheat on 120 acres yielded 55 bushels per
acre. He plants wheat as a cover crop after tobacco, and often cuts
it for round bale silage or hay, but wheat prices and his forage
supplies determine how he harvests the crop. In 2016, the wheat
Robert Mills, Jr., named
2017 Virginia Farmer of the Year
Robert and Cynthia Mills.