Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Power List 2023: Agriculture

Mohamed Ahmedna
Johnny Barnes
Bryan Blinson
Trey Braswell III
Jose ‘Pepe’ Calderon
Bryan Dobson


Russell Estes
Steve Evans
Michelle Grainger
Craig Hagood
Bobby Ham
Shawn Harding


Vern Hawkins
David Herring
Jay Jandrain
Evan Kleinhans
Angie Maier
Wendell ‘Dell’ Murphy Jr.


Lorenda Overman
Mike Popowycz
Paul Rea
Linwood H. Scott III*
Linwood Vick


vice president, co-owner | Scott Farms

Scott works with his father, Linwood Scott Jr., and his brother, Dewey, at a six-generation Wilson County farm. It’s among eastern North Carolina’s largest farms, with more than 14,000 acres. He was named U.S. National Young Farmer of the Year
in 2000. Sweet potatoes and tobacco are key businesses for the Scotts. 


Favorite family tradition: Every year, we take a break from the hustle and bustle of the farm at the beach. Having this time with my wife, children, and grandson is always a special time for us to recharge and connect with one another.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: We have a place where we stay at Emerald Isle that is somewhat secluded and allows our family a chance to get away and share some quality time going to the beach, fishing, and other activities.

What do you listen to on your commute: My favorite podcasts are “Grain Markets and Other Stuff” with Joe Vaclavik and “The Scene Vault Podcast” with Rick Houston. They provide information and entertainment while I am focusing on the opportunities of the day.

Major inspiration: My mom and dad. Alice and Sonny Scott. Through the tough times, they never wavered in their dedication and determination to our family, the farm, employees, and community. Their tireless efforts and guidance have set the standard that our family and business follow today.

Career highlight: At the age of 31, I was honored with being named National Young Farmer of the Year.

Favorite hobby after work: Running eight to 12 miles per week gives me the time to think and reflect on the days past and plan the days to come. Running allows freedom to just simply be.

Key industry change over the next five years: There will be forms of consolidation that will occur. From consolidation of land to business operations, having to do more with less. These are major factors agriculture is facing now and will continue to face in the future.


dean, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences | North Carolina A&T State University

Ahmedna has doctoral and master’s degrees from Louisiana State University and UNC Chapel Hill MBA. He joined N.C. A&T, the nation’s biggest historically Black university, as an assistant professor in 2000. He became a full professor in 2009, then spent eight years at Qatar University before returning to A&T as dean in 2018. 


president | Barnes Farming and Farm Pak
Spring Hope

Barnes Farming started in the early 1960s and now ranks among the largest U.S. sweet potato producers, managing more than 6,000 acres. Barnes is president of the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute. His wife, Lisa, is a state senator. He has a bachelor’s in agricultural economics from N.C. State University. 


executive director | N.C. Cattlemen’s Association

Blinson grew up on a farm near Lenoir where his parents still raise cattle. He and his wife, Beth, manage a farm in Buies Creek, while his oldest daughter and her husband have a farming operation in Kansas. His alma mater, N.C. State University, honored him as a distinguished alumni last year.


president | Braswell Family Farms

Braswell is the fourth-generation president of a family farm established in 1943. It has become the second largest Eggland’s Best franchise in the U.S. An N.C. State University graduate and Nash County native, his farm supplied 20,000 eggs for the annual White House Egg Roll in Washington, D.C. in March.  


international sales director | Farm Pak
Spring Hope

The Costa Rica native joined Barnes Farming in Nash County as a H-2A worker in the early 2000s, starting as a harvester of tobacco and sweet potatoes. He rose in the company, which exports more than a third of its sweet potatoes. He was the first Latino on the N.C. Board of Agriculture. 


CEO | Quality Equipment

The Scotland Neck native and East Carolina University graduate joined his family’s John Deere tractor dealership, Farmland Tractor, in 1997. With about 36 locations and 650 employees, it ranks among the 12 largest U.S. farm equipment dealers, according to a trade publication. In December, Quality bought Laurinburg-based Southeast Farm Equipment, which has six locations. 


co-owner | Peak Farms

Peak Farms started in 1979 and has grown more than 400,000 Christmas trees in Ashe County. Peak Farms’ trees have served as the official White House Christmas trees four times, most recently in 2021. Russell, who has been a golf course superintendent, works at the farm with his wife, Ann, and son, Beau.


vice president, community development | Smithfield Foods 

The N.C. A&T State University graduate joined Smithfield in 2019 after working in a variety of public and private-sector community development jobs, much of which focused on rural areas. A Knightdale City Council member, he promotes the giant food company’s strategies, including environmental and workforce development efforts.   

Favorite family tradition: Summertime cookouts

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Our beautiful mountains

What do you listen to on your commute: “Society and Culture” podcast with a sprinkling of true crime.

Major inspiration: My two beautiful granddaughters are my biggest inspiration. It is incumbent upon me to do everything I can in removing barriers and creating pathways for their future.

Career highlight: Creating a program to support and encourage greater diverse participation in agriculture.

Favorite hobby: Sit on my deck and listen to music. My hobby is fishing, although I haven’t been able to do much of it lately.

Best advice to industry newcomers: It will change!

Key industry change in next five years: I see more agriculture moving from the fields to the labs, greater overall environmental stewardship and more diverse farmer participation.


executive director | North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission

Grainger joined the trade association in 2020 after about 20 years as a manager at N.C. State University, including its Executive Farm Management program. She has two bachelor’s degrees from the Raleigh university. The trade group represents more than 400 growers in the No. 1 sweet potato producing state. 


president, CEO | House-Autry Mills
Four Oaks

Hagood, who earned a doctoral degree in business administration last year from Indiana Wesleyan University, has been CEO of the breading, spice and batters companies since 2010. He joined the business in 2001 after working for Cargill and Conagra. In March, the company unveiled a refreshed packaging design for its seasoned coating mixes.


owner | Ham Farms
Snow Hill

The East Carolina University graduate has led the business since the 1980s, creating one of the largest U.S. sweet potato farming businesses and an exporter to 16 nations. The company also produces processed foods, including vegetable and fruit purees. And it sells sweet potato vodka under the Covington brand.


CEO | N.C. Farm Bureau

He’s been president of the state’s largest general farm group since 2019. The N.C. State University graduate and Beaufort County farmer oversees an insurance subsidiary with annual revenue topping    $1 billion. The not-for-profit group is owned by more than 500,000 member families.


president | Syngenta Crop Protection

The Temple University MBA graduate has become an ag chemicals industry leader after more than 35 years at the company, which was acquired by ChemChina for $43 billion in 2017. It was China’s biggest foreign takeover. Syngenta provides seeds, seed treatment, crop protection and traits to growers. He also has a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University.


vice president | Hog Slat
Newton Grove

The N.C. State University graduate and his brothers Tommy and Mar lead the business that employs more than 2,000 to make and sell containment equipment and other products for hog and poultry farmers. It has more than 90 retail locations in eight nations. Herring’s father, Billy, founded the business in 1969.


CEO | Butterball

The Cornell University graduate gained his current post in 2020 at the largest U.S. turkey producer with six plants in four states. He started at Butterball in 2002 as director of research and development after working at Cargill and Plantation Foods. The company is jointly owned by Goldsboro-based Goldsboro Milling and Merriam, Kansas-based Seaboard.


CEO | AgCarolina Farm Credit

Kleinhans is an East Carolina University MBA graduate who oversees the member-owned enterprise that is part of the Farm Credit System, the largest provider of credit to U.S. agriculture. AgCarolina has about $3 billion in loans to more than 6,000 members. He has worked for the organization since 2011.  

Favorite family tradition: Breakfast at home with family on Christmas morning.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Crystal Coast

What do you listen to on your commute: Podcasts and audiobooks on leadership, spirituality, business and agriculture.

Major inspiration: The sources of inspiration in my life are faith, family and Farm Credit. Faith: Living and leading in a way that honors God. Family: Loving and supporting my family so we may all flourish. Farm Credit: Working with great people to serve agriculture and rural communities to yield a more prosperous future for all.

Career highlight: The opportunity to work side-by-side with great men and women at AgCarolina Farm Credit to provide constructive credit and financial services to grow the success of our members, one local relationship at a time.

Favorite hobby: A walk outside with my family after a long day of work. Our favorite hobby is fishing together as a family.

Best advice to industry newcomer: Grow meaningful relationships with people that are built on mutual respect, trust and integrity. No matter what line of work you are in, make a point to be in the business of building relationships with great people. The people we choose to surround ourselves with ultimately shapes who we are to become. Choose them wisely.

Key industry change in next five years: The convergence and rapid advancements in technology, data analytics and automation could have a profound impact on how food, fuel and fiber are produced, processed and marketed over the next five years. The agricultural industry and supporting industries will need to evolve to find new and improved ways to add value to these ecosystems.


principal  | Valley View Insights 

The McDowell County native is a key lobbyist for trade associations representing the cattle, dairy and pork industries. She worked at the N.C. Pork Council for nearly 16 years, including as director of government affairs and sustainability. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from N.C. State University. 

Favorite family tradition: Theatre in the Park’s version of “A Christmas Carol” at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium or DPAC. 

Best advice to industry newcomer: Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Resist any urge to make others think you are the smartest person in the room — even if you are.

Key industry change in next five years: Growth in our urban centers presents many challenges for farmers. North Carolina ranks second for the amount of farmland converted to a developed use since 2001. Despite that trend, agriculture remains the state’s biggest industry. A growing population results in high-density neighborhoods being built adjacent to working farms. This loss in farmland is also not just taking land out of production, it is literally changing the topography of eastern North Carolina.


CEO | Murphy Family Ventures
Rose Hill

In 1962, Murphy’s father and grandfather started a pork production business that became a national leader before merging with Smithfield Foods in 2000. In 2004, Murphy Family Ventures united the family’s businesses, which include farm management, golf courses and sales of cars, boats and real estate. His wife, Wendy, is on the UNC System Board of Governors.


co-owner | Overman Farms

The past chair of the N.C. Pork Council and her husband, Harrell, operate a third-generation swine farm and hog finishing operation in Wayne County. Overman is a leading advocate for women in agriculture at the local, state and national levels, including service for the American Farm Bureau. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mount Olive College.  


CEO | Case Foods

A graduate of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Popowycz joined Case in 1987 and was its longtime chief financial officer. He was promoted to CEO in 2022. The 3,000-plus employee company was founded in 1986 and is owned by Thomas Shelton of Eden, Maryland. 


senior vice president for agricultural solutions, North America | BASF

A native of New Zealand, Rea joined BASF in Australia in 2001 and worked in Singapore before taking his current role in 2014. He oversees the German-based company’s crop protection, seed, turf and pest management businesses in the U.S. and Canada. He has an MBA from the University of Sydney. 

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Lake Gaston

What do you listen to on your commute: NPR

Major inspiration: The customers of BASF. Farmers have the biggest job on earth, and it is getting more complex, and more important.

Career highlight: Various international assignments I’ve embarked on have been the most rewarding. With BASF, I’ve had multiple opportunities to travel abroad, enabling me to experience new places, people and cultures.

Favorite hobby: Exercising is the perfect addition to my day. I recently started packing a jump rope in my suitcase when I travel. I love water sports.

Best advice to industry newcomers: Be curious. Develop a passion for learning that will allow for constant growth over your lifetime.

Key industry change in next five years: Digitalization is changing the farming industry. It’s enabling farmers to make better decisions that enhance their productivity and their sustainability.


partner, general manager | Vick Family Farms

The N.C. State University graduate’s parents, Jerome and Diane, founded the business with 25 acres in 1975. It now encompasses 9,000 acres across three counties with stakes in sweet potatoes, tobacco and cotton. Vick works with his sister, Charlotte, who is a partner and president of sales and marketing.  

For 40 years, sharing the stories of North Carolina's dynamic business community.

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