was custom harvested for grain.
The chickens on his farm are pullets
(often called parent breeders), which he
grows for Perdue Farms from the time they
hatch until they reach 22 weeks. Then they
are shipped to eastern North Carolina,
where they lay eggs that will hatch and
become broilers that are grown for meat.
He grows 34,000 pullets each year.
Mills has about 300 beef cows, including
about 75 bred heifers and 275 feeder
calves. Though his cattle are scattered in
three counties, he uses a 90-day breeding
schedule. He keeps 250 fall calving cows
on seven farms, and 50 spring calving cows
on four farms. When calves are weaned, he
either sells them or puts them on feed to
carry them to heavier weights, depending
“I have a unique story,” says Mills, who grew up in a subdivision in
Danville, Va., and grew vegetables as his first FFA project.
At 14, he bought a Bush Hog rotary cutter, and at 15 bought
a used Ford tractor. At the time, his mom worked at a bank that
gave him a line of credit to buy the equipment. He also worked for
nine years at a commercial farm near his home.
He expanded his vegetable farming to 5 acres, then started
growing dark-fired tobacco, and later began buying cattle. “I
started with zero capital and took a risk with each loan,” he recalls.
Mills served as Virginia FFA state president in 1991-1992.
He attended Virginia Tech University and received an associate
degree in agricultural technology. He bought his first farm in 1998
and started farming full-time in 2001.
He worked off the farm before beginning to farm full-time.
He first managed a Royster-Clark farm supply store, then worked
as a conservation specialist for the Pittsylvania Soil & Water
His life took a turn for the better, he says, when a Perdue Farms
representative showed him how chickens could bring in as much
money as he earned in his conservation work. Getting the poultry
house was the key that allowed Mills to stay home and farm every
day of the year.
As a former conservation specialist, he takes pride in his
conservation practices, including crop rotation, cover crops, field
borders, grassed waterways, terraces, and stream crossings. He
plants grasses and trees along streams.
“Our goal is to completely exclude cattle from our waterways,”
he says. He also follows a nutrient management
plan that is updated every three years.
Recently, Mills was elected president of the board
of directors for the Virginia Department of Agriculture
and Consumer Services. He has also been appointed
to the Board of Visitors for Virginia Tech.
He has been active in Pittsylvania County Farm
Bureau, Callands Young Farmers, Pittsylvania County
Cattlemen’s Association, Pittsylvania County Soil
& Water Conservation District, USDA-Farm Service
Agency county committee, and Olde Dominion
In Virginia Farm Bureau, he was a discussion
meet winner, and received the Young Farmers
Achievement Award and Environmental
Stewardship Award. His farm received a clean water
award by the Virginia Department of Conservation
& Recreation. He has served on the state board and
on several Virginia Farm Bureau committees.
He’s a board member of the Virginia Tobacco Region
Revitalization Commission, an advisory board member for the
Virginia Tech College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, serves on
a Farm Credit nominating committee, and is a member of the
Virginia Tobacco Growers Association.
His wife, Cynthia, works off farm as an information technology
resource teacher for Pittsylvania County Schools, responsible
for computer systems at three schools. She also handles bill
paying and payroll for the farm. She is active in Virginia Education
Association, Pittsylvania Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, and
has also been active in Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer
Committee. Robert and Cynthia are active in Hollywood Baptist
They have two sons, Logan, 16, and Holden, 11. Logan wants to
farm, and Robert says that motivates him to continue expanding
the operation. Both boys are great mechanics, and Holden wants
to be an on-the-road John Deere mechanic. “Holden has his own
tool shop in my shop,” says Robert. “In fact, he has more tools than
most farm shops.”
Robert has been a public speaker for most of the past 25 years.
He tells young people to follow their dreams. “Kids today don’t
need to hear that they can’t do something,” he says.
Robert D. Grisso, Jr., with the Virginia Cooperative Extension
Service, coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state.
Mills was nominated for the honor by Stephen Barts, Extension
agent in Pittsylvania County. Barts admires how Mills succeeded
as a first generation farmer and how he diversified his tobacco
Mills was nominated for the honor by Stephen Barts.