03/07/06 — Swinsons honored by state as 2005 Tobacco Farm Family

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Swinsons honored by state as 2005 Tobacco Farm Family

By Turner Walston
Published in News on March 7, 2006 2:02 PM

For Vic Swinson, farming is a family affair.

Swinson said he counts on his wife, Teresa, and their children to help manage their 4,000-acre Duplin County farm. Their teamwork was rewarded when the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina named the Swinsons the 2005 Tobacco Farm Family of the Year.

Each member of the Swinson family plays an important role in the farm's daily operations.

Teresa is responsible for keeping the books. Their son, Lee, 24, cultivates and sprays crops. Daughter Katie, 17, scouts fields for insects and diseases that require attention.

Swinson, 48, graduated from North Duplin High School in 1976, but started farming long before that. As a boy he learned from his father, Nick. His father started allowing Vic to farm his own tobacco as a teenager, and he continued to expand. By the time he and Teresa were married in 1978, they were farming 200 acres.

"We've more or less grown from there. A young farmer doesn't, most of the time, jump out to a tremendous start," Swinson said. "You've got to prove yourself to the older folks."

Today, the Swinson farm covers several thousands acres in northern Duplin County. The family farms cotton, peanuts, corn, tobacco and strawberries and raises cattle. They employ six field hands full time.

But despite the additional labor, the Swinsons have kept their hands in the business.

Lee has plans to continue farming.

His father said his son has learned how to turn out a good crop and hopes to make his livelihood from the land.

"He wanted to come back and farm," the elder Swinson said.

His wife's role is crucial, Swinson said. Farm programs require a tremendous amount of bookkeeping for the farm to be financially successful, he said.

"She really does all the work around here. We definitely wouldn't make it without her," Swinson said.

Katie, who will graduate from North Duplin this year, helps check the tobacco. Swinson said hopes she continue to be involved in the family business.

He said crop diversification has been a key to his family's continued success. If one crop does poorly, another hopefully will do well and keep profits up, he said.

"You don't need everything in one basket," Swinson said.

Swinson said and his family were humbled when they learned they had been chosen for the Farm Family award.

"There are a lot of excellent tobacco farmers out there. To be picked out by this group of folks, it was a real honor," he said

Swinson thanked the staff of Duplin Cooperative Extension for helping him keep up with changes in agriculture.

"They're not clock-watchers. If you have a problem, they'll help you," he said.

Although farming is competitive, Swinson said his neighbors have also been helpful over the years.

"The farmers in this area have a pretty good network," he said. "I watch my neighbor's crop just like they'll watch mine. Everybody tries to be helpful."

But he said the heart of his farm is family.

"It's not an individual accomplishment," Swinson said, adding that it gives him great pride to know his wife and children take such an interest in the family business despite the challenges that come with making a living off the land.

"It's gratifying to see them keep an interest in farming," he said. "Farming's not really that hard a life, it's just very demanding. You don't get a summer vacation."