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Kim Starnes says conservation is the right thing

Farmer and family named the North Carolina Outstanding Conservation Farm Family of the Year for 2024 for their exemplary service.

John Hart, Associate Editor

June 11, 2024

4 Min Read
Farmer Kim Starnes speaking alongside family
From left, Jason Starnes, wife Robin Starnes, son Grayson Starnes, Connie Starnes, and Kim Starnes, the North Carolina Outstanding Conservation Farm Family of the Year. John Hart

One reason Kim Starnes uses good conservation practices on his farm in Rowan County, N.C. is because “it’s the right thing to do.” 

“It’s protecting the stuff the good Lord gave us. It’s being good steward of what the good Lord gave us,” Starnes, owner of 4S Farms near Salisbury, told Southeast Farm Press. 

Starnes and his family are the North Carolina Outstanding Conservation Farm Family of the Year for 2024. The Starnes family was honored with a lunch and award ceremony on their farm near Salisbury on May 9. The award, sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Soil & Water Conversation Districts (NCASWCD), recognizes exemplary, voluntary conservation practices. 

Starnes said he is humbled by the honor. 

“I want to thank the Lord. If it wasn’t for Him, we wouldn’t be here today. I want to thank my family. I’m a first-generation farmer. Somebody asked me earlier about that, why did I get started farming, and I said when I grew up, I wanted to farm. I grew up on a dozen acres. My dad worked public work; he didn’t really farm. He had a field and he rented it out. When I was in high school, we fenced it and got some cattle,” Starnes said in accepting the award. 

Getting started 

Kim and Connie Starnes started farming on their own in 1975 with cattle and hay. They started raising row crops two years later.  

The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in July. Their children Jason and Jennifer were involved with the farm as they grew up, Jason handling the crops and Julia working the cattle. 

At first, Starnes farmed part-time. His full-time job was with Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station in Salisbury. He took early retirement from Duke Energy 18 years ago and has farmed full time ever since. Son Jason joined the operation full-time after graduating from North Carolina State University in Raleigh with a degree in agronomy in 1999. Jason’s wife Robin is also involved in the farm. 

When Jason returned to the farm after graduation, the family decided to diversify the farm to make it more sustainable. In 2002, they started a poultry operation, raising pullets for Pilgrim’s Pride. They currently have four poultry houses. Utilizing their own land and rented acreage, 4S Farms consists of 800 acres.  

Stewardship and conservation 

In addition to Angus cattle and poultry, the family grows soybeans, corn, and wheat. They also raise hay for cattle.  

The family emphasizes stewardship and good conservation practices in every step of the farming operation. 

“We have fenced cattle out of all ponds and streams. As for our crops, we use GPS grid soil sampling and apply lime and fertilizer according to that. With our poultry litter and poultry, we do the same thing. We clean their houses in the spring and use the litter on our cornland,” Starnes said in an interview following the awards presentation. 

The poultry litter is spread on the corn according to the recommendations of a soil test and the nutrient content of the litter, which is obtained from an analysis of the litter. The family emphasizes precise application so as not to overapply the litter. 

Starnes says GPS is an important tool in their stewardship efforts because it allows for precision planting and precise chemical applications. “Our planters have row setoffs, so we don’t overlap. Our sprayer has section control where we don’t overapply the herbicide.” 

In addition, grassland waterways help reduce erosion by slowing the flow of water through a field that has potential for eroding. Their cropland is 100% no till. Starnes says leaving the corn stubble on the ground instead of tilling it shades the soil which helps maintain moisture and suppress weeds. The decomposing vegetation also adds nutrients to the soil. 

North Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler spoke at the awards luncheon and credited the Starnes family for putting good conservation and stewardship practices into each step of the farming operation. Bryan Evans, NCASWCD executive director; Billy Kilpatrick, NCASWCD president; Jimmy Gentry, NC Grange president; and Vance Dalton, chief executive officer of AgSouth Farm Credit also spoke and credited the Starnes family for their conservation work. Bruce Miller, chair of Rowan Soil and Water Conservation District, served as master of ceremonies. 

The event drew a crowd of 210, including farmers, family friends, and local dignitaries. Members of South Rowan FFA and West Rowan High School FFA also attended. The members of West Rowan High School FFA provided the meal. 

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About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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