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Meet the 2023 North Carolina Innovative Young Farmer of the Year

One of the highlights of the Innovative Young Farmer Award each year is the assurance that the future of agriculture is in good hands. This year’s winner, Archie Griffin, of Griffin Farms, Inc., in Beaufort County, combines several attributes that not only earn him the title of Innovative Young Farmer, but showcase his talents as a farmer-scholar and agricultural ambassador, qualities that serve both his farming operation and the agricultural industry well.

The award, presented each year at the Southern Farm Show by the Tobacco Farm Life Museum, Inc., and sponsored by Farm Credit Associations of North Carolina, is important validation for young farmers. That’s the case for Archie. “It’s not only an honor to be recognized but it is a blessing,” he says. “It tells me that people from around the state are taking notice not only of the plans we have but the direction we are trying to take our farm operation.”

That direction includes not only diversification and value-added products but incorporating a circular farming concept, an approach he is working to adopt after visiting farms abroad.

Griffin Farms’ Direction

With a bachelor’s in plant and soil science from N.C. State in 2012, Archie returned to his family farm, owned by his parents, Steve and Pam Griffin. While working full-time on the farm, he earned an MBA in 2018 from East Carolina University. Griffin Farms consists of about 2,000 acres and traditionally produced primarily tobacco and grains. Archie shares that a closer look at end-of-the-year gross revenues revealed that 15 percent of the acreage farmed was made up of tobacco, but it accounted for 85 percent of the gross revenues. “To me that was just too many eggs in one basket,” he says. Here are a few highlights of what is in the works:

  • Diversifying while showcasing agriculture. The need to diversify has moved the farm increasingly into produce and various other crops. In addition to their current markets, Griffin Farms is constructing a farm market store. Not only will they sell their own products directly to consumers, but they plan to showcase and sell farm products, including plants and other nursery products, from all 100 North Carolina counties. The market will feature an educational/entertainment/promotional type component as well. Through TV screens, videos, signage, and other tools, customers will get a close-up look at what it takes to grow a given crop and will meet the farmers behind it. Griffin’s Farm Market is located at 2898 Highway 17 North in Washington, which is a busy highway for beachgoers, the perfect place to stock up for a week at the beach.
  • Implementing wise water use. Water retention and regenerative agriculture are top of mind when it comes to being mindful of prized natural resources. The farm is in the process of setting up an irrigation system, including a system to collect water runoff for irrigation.
  • Installing an anaerobic digester. Another of Archie’s goals is to avoid synthetic fertilizer use on the farm and to use byproducts of the digester in multiple ways. This is another part of the circular farming model where everything gets used. For example, such items as damaged produce, wheat or corn chaff, straw, or other plant wastes from the farm can go into the digester. If desired, but not necessary, manure or chicken litter can be added. One of the byproducts is a slurry that can be put back onto the farm fields as a fertilizer. Another benefit is the natural gas that is created that can be used to run the farm buildings and equipment. The digester process also generates energy that can be sold to electric companies.

International Inspiration

In 2018, Archie was named as a Nuffield International Farming Scholar, a program that supports the development of individuals in agriculture around the world, giving them the confidence, knowledge, and network to step up as leaders at home and on the global stage. It serves as a global think tank on agriculture. As part of the program, Archie traveled extensively around the world, visiting leaders with some of the world’s largest agricultural entities and gleaning ideas and innovations to adopt on his farm. His focus and research report was on “Growing in uncertain times: transformative production practices to optimize farm resources and margins.”

The anaerobic digester and other circular farming models that Archie is implementing on his farm are based on operations in England and are relatively new on farms not only in North Carolina but across the country. “I believe it’s a solution for the agricultural industry,” explains Archie. “It allows farms to diversify quite deeply.”

Agricultural Ambassador

While Archie has adopted ideas gleaned from study trips, he also gives back to the agricultural industry in both his county and the state, serving on numerous agricultural related boards and advisory councils, including as a member of the Board of Directors for the N.C. State University Agribusiness Office for Student Mentoring. The roles of mentor and agricultural ambassador are important to him. “Agriculture is not only the most vital industry to our nation, but it is imperative that we keep it alive and that we do not write it off,” he says. “Individuals in agriculture are incredibly intellectual and might wear 8 to 10 different hats, so to speak, in their operation on a daily basis. Bringing the younger generation in and letting them know there are avenues in agriculture, that you don’t have to be born on a farm, is important to me. You must be innovative. You must test the boundaries.”

Important Partnership

Archie is a customer-member of Farm Credit, a critical partner in his operation. “Without Farm Credit, the big picture and my innovative thinking do not work. They are the backbone that holds me upright and holds our operation upright because without Farm Credit’s support – financially and otherwise – this whole thing would crumble. It would cease to exist. It would just be another whimsical idea. I just want to say thank you to not only the agricultural community and those who nominated me but to Farm Credit for supporting me. It’s refreshing to be recognized to pursue these dreams.”

If You Can Dream It

There’s a popular quote from Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” One of Archie’s dreams is to one day follow in the footsteps of Steve Troxler and become Commissioner of Agriculture. “It’s a long way down the road,” he says, “but the state of North Carolina needs a strong voice as agriculture commissioner and Commissioner Troxler is the best and a role model. One day I’d like to be in those shoes.”

By Leah Chester-Davis

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