North Carolina farmers know how important it is to take care of protecting both land and water resources. We’re proud of all that our growers do to ensure they are producing soybeans in a sustainable manner.
In addition to working hard each day to take care of the land, it’s also important growers are sharing their stories with the world. You have a great story and should be proud to share what you’re doing to ensure your operation is around for years to come.
In this article from the latest United Soybean Board Beyond the Bean magazine, Person County grower and NCSPA Board member Jimmy Thomas shares his sustainability story.
Lessons learned from a farmer who was sustainable before it was cool
For North Carolina soybean farmer Jimmy Thomas, sustainability is defined not as a set of practices, but as a way of life.
Thomas and his family live on a seventh-generation row crop farm. Thomas inherited farming practices from his ancestors, who instilled in him a love for the land and a “doing things the right way” farming mentality. And for the Thomases, farming the “right way” means protecting the land through sustainable agriculture.
“On our farm, sustainability has always been an attitude,” Thomas says. “It’s like that old country western song that says ‘we were country when country wasn’t cool.’ Well, we were sustainable before sustainability was cool.”
According to Thomas, if you’ve ever seen the definition of a true family farm, his could be the cover photo. Along with his brother, Timmy, and father, Pete, they’ve chosen to continue their family’s farming tradition of making sustainability a priority.
“We work collectively to gain efficiency, but we’re just a group of family members who’ve chosen to work together toward a common goal of producing crops in a sustainable manner,” he says.
With the farm located at the head of three major watersheds in North Carolina, the Neuse, Roanoke and Tar-Pamlico, the family’s main focus has always been on water.
“A lot of people talk about water quality, and while that is important in our operation, our real focus is on water utilization, making sure we have access to every drop of water that we can and using it to its fullest ability,” Thomas says.
The extremely dense topsoils and limited amounts of rainfall in North Carolina make it difficult for soil to store moisture. These soil conditions make the Thomas family’s “never-till” mentality crucial, as their 100 percent no-till grain operation allows the soil to hold moisture and causes less runoff into the local watersheds.
“If we can keep the water in the soil, then we can increase potential everywhere,” he says. “Our goal of using water efficiently is to improve our soil health, as well as the general public’s water supply.”
The Thomases also use a variety of structures, including terraces, grass waterways, field borders and filter strips, on the farm to direct water flow and filter runoff.
To be truly sustainable, Thomas believes you should use every resource the land provides. Whether it’s planting cover crops in the off-season or double-cropping soybeans with wheat, there is almost always something growing in his fields, even on the land not suitable for row crops.
Nearly 40 percent of his land cannot produce grain, but it’s carefully managed in a forestry program. He’s also invited companies to consider using waste from his 250-sow operation as an economical way to generate electricity.
“Being sustainable isn’t one single practice,” he says. “It’s about being proactive and realizing everything that is available to you as a resource, then creating a strategy that will work best for you.”
Thomas shares his farm’s sustainability story as often as he can. His outstanding efforts toward sustainable production landed him the American Soybean Association Conservation Legacy Award in 2015. He was also named a Water All-Star by the United Soybean Board that same year.
He’s not only proud of his hard working team at home, but he’s also proud of the industry as a whole. Thomas encourages others to share their stories to help promote a sustainable future for agriculture.
“If all farmers came together to tell the story of sustainability, people would listen. We’ve got a great story to tell.”