Robert T. “Tom” Nixon is the 2014 Virginia Farmer of the Year

A 30-year farmer, Nixon farms about 4,000 acres. He rents most of the land and his family owns 378 acres. Though he doesn’t irrigate, his crop yields are good. Per acre yields last year were 175 bushels of grain and 20 tons of silage from 750 acres of corn, 10 tons of silage from 250 acres of sorghum, 50 bushels of soybeans from 1,000 acres, 83 bushels of wheat from 400 acres, 95 bushels of barley from 400 acres and 75 bushels of oats from 50 acres.

Beef cattle, turkeys and row crops are major enterprises at scenic Glenmary Farm overlooking the Rapidan River near Rapidan, Va. Robert T. “Tom” Nixon II, who owns this farm, is focused on flexibility in growing and marketing cattle and crops.

For instance, he harvests corn as a cash crop or silage, depending on prices for corn and beef cattle. He’s equally flexible in selling cattle, be they weaned calves, stockers, bred cows or finished cattle from his feedlot.

As a result of his success raising cattle, crops and turkeys, Nixon has been selected as Virginia’s state winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Nixon joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

A 30-year farmer, Nixon farms about 4,000 acres. He rents most of the land and his family owns 378 acres. “We rent from absentee landowners because land prices are high,” says Nixon.

Though he doesn’t irrigate, his crop yields are good. Per acre yields last year were 175 bushels of grain and 20 tons of silage from 750 acres of corn, 10 tons of silage from 250 acres of sorghum, 50 bushels of soybeans from 1,000 acres, 83 bushels of wheat from 400 acres, 95 bushels of barley from 400 acres and 75 bushels of oats from 50 acres. He also grows hay on 400 acres producing 3.8 tons per acre and has about 1,600 pasture acres.

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“We try to raise about 6,000 tons of corn silage each year, and we harvest about 1,000 tons of high moisture corn to feed in our feedlot,” he says. “Last year, we had high corn yields and good prices, so we sold 50,000 bushels of corn for cash.” He raises less corn silage if he has good supplies of small grain silage. This year, he’s spreading risks by planting forage sorghum.

His 750-head cowherd has 500 fall-calving and 250 spring-calving females. He buys about 2,000 stocker cattle yearly, and more if he has excess grass. He also raises 153,000 turkeys yearly on contract with Cargill.

“We sell home-raised calves in trailer-load lots through the Virginia Quality Assured program,” Nixon explains. “We market stockers in trailer-load lots through a weekly Tel-O-Auction sale sponsored by the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association. Buyers in Pennsylvania and Iowa often purchase these cattle. We sell finished cattle on yield and grade or to a packer in Maryland as source and age verified cattle.”

His feedlot holds 1,000 head. He feeds out his own cattle and provides custom feeding for other cattle owners. Nixon has operated the Culpepper Beef Cattle Improvement Association Bull Test Station for 18 years. He feeds about 100 bulls for a 112-day test period.

Heifer development is important, for rebuilding his herd and for selling bred heifers to local and out-of-state producers.

Nixon has built a young, productive cowherd. He sells about 15% of his cows as bred females. “I’d rather sell a bred cow than a cull cow,” adds Nixon. “I like to move them out when they’re still productive. This year, with cattle prices high, we may sell more cows.” Nixon also uses social media to help market his cattle.

Diversificaion helps with risk management

“Diversification helps with risk management,” says Nixon. “So we built our feedlot, turkey houses, and started managing the bull test station. Feeding the bulls has led to additional custom feeding for local producers.”

Nixon follows a nutrient management plan updated yearly. New feedlot facilities allow manure to be used as a nutrient to reduce his fertilizer costs.

He built a modern barn with a squeeze chute and double alleys for treating cattle. He has also upgraded equipment by renting a farm with grain bins, buying a new combine and buying a new wide planter adaptable to variable rate seeding, auto steering and global positioning guidance.

His conservation work includes sediment ponds, fencing off waterways, manure storage facilities and cover crops.

A 1995 flood destroyed 200 acres of corn silage. After the floodwaters receded, he planted a successful sorghum silage crop. Hot weather took a toll in 1999. Crop yields dropped 50%, and the heat killed 30% of the heavy tom turkeys in his houses. In 2004, Pilgrim’s Pride decided to stop producing turkeys, and Nixon was fortunate to get a new contract with Cargill to raise turkey hens.

The farm’s Glenmary name comes from an original King of England land grant. Nixon says a small house built on the farm in 1733 was donated to a local museum.

“During the early 1990s, we faced a decision,” Tom recalls. “We struggled during the 1980s, and had to decide whether to move forward. We worked with Extension farm management agents to develop budgets and financial plans.” This resulted upgrading the feedlots and investing in the turkey facilities. “These changes paved the way for us to grow,” recalls Tom.

Active in farm groups

He has been active in agricultural organizations. He is a founder and served as president of the Central Virginia Cattlemen Association, formed to help producers market their calves.

Nixon has also been active in Culpepper Cooperative, Orange County Farm Bureau and the Orange County Fair. On the state level, he has been active in Virginia’s Cattlemen’s Association, Feeder Council and Cattle Feeders.

He met his wife Kim at a farm field day when she worked as an integrated pest management agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension. Kim is from a poultry and beef farm and she manages the turkey operation. She also manages the farm office and uses the computer for all financial records, cattle inventories, custom feeding billing and field crop records.    

Kim has been an Orange County 4-H Club leader who taught livestock care to 4-H members, and chaired a community service committee for a local livestock club. She is a Junior Advisor for the Virginia Junior Angus Association. She was also a director on the Culpepper Soil and Water Conservation District. The Nixons are active in Mitchells Presbyterian Church.

Tom and Kim have two children, Elizabeth and Robert, who are developing an embryo transfer donor cow program with their registered Angus cows. They each own more than 14 commercial cows in addition to their registered cattle. They also sold 4-H Club lambs until Elizabeth started attending college in Kansas.

The Nixons are ready if their children come back to farm. Elizabeth is mainly interested in cattle and Robert focuses on crops. Elizabeth is nationally recognized in livestock judging. She will attend Oklahoma State University and will double major in Animal Science and Ag Communications, while Robert intends to study diesel mechanics after high school.

Robert “Bobby” Grisso, associate director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Steve Hopkins, Extension agent in Orange, Va., introduced Tom to Kim and nominated Nixon for the award. “Tom has an impressive farm,” says Hopkins. “It is remarkable how he expanded his farm. He has an outstanding family and they all promote agriculture.”

As the Virginia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Nixon will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of either another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 25th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $964,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Previous state winners from Virginia

Previous state winners from Virginia include: Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater, 1990; Russell Inskeep of Culpepper, 1991; Harry Bennett of Covington, 1992; Hilton Hudson of Alton, 1993; Buck McCann of Carson, 1994; George M. Ashman, Jr. of Amelia, 1995; Bill Blalock of Baskerville, 1996; G. H. Peery III of Ceres, 1997; James Bennett of Red House, 1998; Ernest Copenhaver of Meadowview, 1999; John Davis of Port Royal, 2000; James Huffard III of Crockett, 2001; J. Hudson Reese of Scottsburg, 2002; Charles Parkerson of Suffolk, 2003; Lance Everett of Stony Creek, 2004; Monk Sanford of Orange, 2005; Paul House of Nokesville, 2006; Steve Berryman of Surry, 2007; Tim Sutphin of Dublin, 2008; Billy Bain of Dinwiddie, 2009; Wallick Harding of Jetersville, 2010; Donald Horsley of Virginia Beach, 2011; Maxwell Watkins of Sutherland, 2012; and Lin Jones of New Canton, 2013 .

Virginia has had two overall winners, Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater in 1990 and Charles Parkerson of Suffolk in 2003.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit Nixon’s farm and farms of the other nine finalists during the week of Aug. 4-8. The judges this year include farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years; and Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.

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