From his very first agriculture class in eighth grade, Robert Mills of Callands, Virginia, was hooked.
Although he wasn’t raised on a farm, Mills knew from a young age that he wanted to spend his life in agriculture, and the hard work has paid off. He was recently named the Virginia Farmer of the Year by the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Farmer of the Year award.
Mills runs his extremely diverse operation, called Briar View Farm, with his two sons, Logan and Holden. The first-generation farmer raises poultry and beef, and grows four different types of tobacco, including conventional flue-cure tobacco, organic flue-cured tobacco, dark-fired tobacco and tobacco for potential biofuel on 2,244 acres.
Mills says his organic tobacco yield was higher than the conventional tobacco, which was surprising to him. He sells both types to the Japan Tobacco International company and says he’s adding three new tobacco-curing barns this year that will feature automatic controls.
As for his poultry operation, Mills was formerly working as a conservation specialist for the Pittsylvania Soil and Water Conservation District when a representative from Perdue approached him to raise pullets, also known as parent breeders. Mills raises 34,000 chickens each year from the time they hatch until they are 22 weeks, at which point they’re shipped to eastern North Carolina to lay eggs that will hatch and become broilers for Perdue.
Mills also has about 300 beef cows, winter wheat, soybeans for hay, pearl millet for forage and grain, and a vegetable garden. His work as a conservation specialist influenced the practices he uses on his own farm, which include fencing plus grasses and trees planted along streams to keep cattle away from waterways, cover crops, crop rotation and more.
And despite not coming from a farming background, Mills has paved a great path of leadership in Virginia’s agriculture industry. He served as Virginia FFA state president from 1991 to 1992, then attended Virginia Tech and earned a degree in agriculture technology. Along with the distinguished farmer of the year awards, he was also recently elected president of the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and was appointed to the Board of Visitors for Virginia Tech. He’s been active in the Pittsylvania County Farm Bureau, Callands Young Farmers, Pittsylvania County Cattlemen’s Association and more.