Pig Farmers are Stewards of Sustainability
Eastern North Carolina pig farmers Debbie and Bryant Worley believe that taking care of the environment comes with the territory of being a farmer.
“Farmers realized the importance of protecting their soil and water before it was politically correct because they needed it for their livelihood, not just their existence,” says Debbie. “There are so many factors affecting farmers today over which they have no control. The way they treat the environment is one they can control.”
The Worleys, along with their son-in-law, Kevin Norris, manage about 1,100 acres of crops including wheat, tobacco and soybeans, and produce 15,000 market hogs annually on their fourth-generation farm in Princeton. The farm has been in Bryant’s family since the late 1880s, and currently, the Worleys are in the process of having it certified as a century farm.
Environmental efforts and land management has always been a top priority, dating back to the 1950s with original conservation plans from Bryant’s father and grandfather.
“Best management practices have come a long way, and it will be the same when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren look at our plan,” Debbie says. “Looking back over how pigs were raised outside, we know that our methods today keep them safe from the elements and have less effect on the environment surrounding them.”
The Worleys have been recognized for their environmental efforts over the years. They earned the title of Conservation Farm Family of the Year in 2005 and recognition as one of four outstanding environmental stewards across the country by the National Pork Board and National Hog Farmer magazine in 2009.
The family farm’s accolades are well deserved. They’ve taken great strides over the years to better their farm in a sustainable manner. They hired a technical specialist with 25 years of experience in environmental management and swine production. Every permitted hog farm in North Carolina is required to have a certified waste management program, and the Worley farm is PQA Plus certified through the Pork Quality Assurance program, which means they’ve been trained in responsible animal care, beneficial for both the pigs and the environment. They’ve also implemented techniques in the hog houses including cup waterers to measure how much pigs consume in a week and a center pivot to help with waste disposal. The Worleys use field borders, grassed waterways, annual soil sampling, a nutrient management plan, updated irrigation equipment as needed, and more for soil and water conservation.
“Today we see many programs that focus on being good stewards of our environment,” Debbie says. “The importance has been brought to the forefront, and with more people moving to North Carolina in the future, we will have to become even better stewards for our natural resources. I believe that farmers are up for the task at hand, just as they’ve always been.”
The Worleys aim to stay humble and share their efforts with other farmers and the community. Both Debbie and Bryant are active volunteers and hold positions in various agriculture organizations. They host students and other groups at the farm to teach them more about environmental stewardship and the importance of conservation.
“We will continue, as we are now, following regulations and being conscious of our environment as we farm our land,” Debbie says. “Hopefully, we’ll be speaking to our grandchildren’s classes, just as we did our daughter’s years ago. We feel that educating our young people in the ways in which we produce their food supply will help ensure the well being of agriculture in North Carolina.”
– Rachel Bertone