RALEIGH — The N.C Pork Council recently inducted John C. Howard Jr. into the N.C. Pork Hall of Fame, bestowing the pork industry’s highest honor to the Deep Run hog farmer who has spent more than a half century building J.C. Howard Farms into one of the state’s largest pork producers.
Howard was one of four people honored by the N.C. Pork Council during its annual conference on Feb. 2. Gaye Crowther of Tabor City was recognized as N.C.’s Outstanding Pork Producer, Cody Coombs of Clinton was named a N.C. Pork All-American, and former N.C. Pork Council CEO Deborah Johnson received the Lois Britt Service to the Industry award.
“John Howard has had an extremely positive impact on North Carolina’s pork industry during his career and we are grateful for his leadership,” said Andy Curliss, chief executive officer of the NC Pork Council. “He has consistently demonstrated his commitment to serve his community and our industry and he is well deserving of this honor.”
Howard is the 29th person inducted into the N.C. Pork Hall of Fame since it was established in 1989.
Howard’s Deep Roots in the N.C.’s Pork Industry
As a young boy in Lenoir County, Howard developed a strong affection for animals. He was active in 4-H and recalls the pride he felt showing a steer that he was certain would earn a blue ribbon. He lost that competition and decided to turn his attention to pigs. It was a passion that has lasted more than sixty years – and the North Carolina pork industry is much better for it.
Howard’s family has deep roots in Deep Run. His grandparents started farming the land more than a century ago, raising hogs and growing tobacco, cotton and other crops. Soon after graduating from N.C. State in 1962, Howard and his wife returned home to the family business. He brought with him new methods for raising hogs and was among the first farmers to embrace the integration of the pork industry in the 1990s. Today, J.C. Howard Farms has more than 18,000 sows.
Howard has been an active supporter of the pork industry and his local community. He was appointed by President Reagan to serve on the National Commission on Agricultural Policy and also served on the N.C. Board of Agriculture. He was received the N.C. Pork Council’s Outstanding Pork Producer award in 1988.
“It’s a great honor to be inducted in the N.C. Pork Hall of Fame,” Howard said. He thanked his family, friends, employees, growers and suppliers for enabling him to be a successful pork producer and said he hopes future generations will carry on the family business.
Former Pork Council CEO receives Lois Britt Service to the Industry award
Deborah Johnson, who led the N.C. Pork Council for over a decade before leaving in 2016, became the seventh honoree of the Lois Britt Service to the Industry award. This special award celebrates the spirit of Lois Britt, who devoted her life to agriculture, education and service to the pork industry. It is awarded at the discretion of the N.C. Pork Council’s officers.
“It is a pleasure to present this award to a friend of Lois’ and a friend of mine,” said Jan Archer, president of the National Pork Board. “Deborah Johnson did so much to support our industry. Thanks to her leadership, the N.C. Pork Council and the pork industry are better off today.”
Curliss praised Johnson for her leadership of the state’s pork industry. “When you think about service to the industry, no one exemplifies that better than Deborah Johnson. She led this industry with grace and conviction during the past decade and we all owe her a tremendous thank you.”
Gaye Crowther honored as N.C.’s Outstanding Pork Producer
Crowther, a family farmer from Tabor City, received North Carolina’s Outstanding Pork Producer award, which recognizes industry leaders for exceptional management and outstanding contributions to the state’s pork industry.
Although she grew up as a city girl, Crowther always had a deep love for animals. Shortly after graduating from Auburn University, she moved to North Carolina to work for Murphy Farms and managed the company’s first 1,000-sow farrow-to-feeder farm.
“Gaye is an exceptional pork producer who represents our industry well,” Curliss said. “She is dedicated to promoting the industry and always looking for ways to make it stronger.”
Crowther started Seawright Farms, a 3,400-sow farrow-to-wean farm, in 1993 and Sea Gro, a 2,000-sow farrow-to-feeder farm, in 2008. In addition, she operates Sea Blu, a 40-acre blueberry farm, and runs a 100 head cow-calf operation.
She has been actively involved with the pork industry at the local, state and national level, including the N.C. Pork Council and the National Pork Producers Council. She currently serves on the N.C. Pork Council board of directors and the Grower Council for the Smithfield Hog Production Division.
“I’m grateful to be part of an industry that has such great leadership and so many growth opportunities,” Crowther said.
Cody Coombs named N.C. Pork All-American
Coombs, a 26-year-old hog farmer from Clinton, was named a N.C. Pork All-American, an annual award that recognizes leaders of the state’s pork industry under 40.
“Cody grew up on a family farm and has an energy and enthusiasm about farming that is contagious,” Curliss said. “He is an emerging young leader in North Carolina’s pork industry who brings passion and determination to everything he does.”
Coombs grew up on a farm south of Clinton and knew he wanted to be a farmer since he was old enough to push the clutch on his father’s tractor. He helped raise cattle, turkeys and hogs throughout his childhood and after graduating from N.C. State he returned to the family farm. He purchased his first hog farm on his 24th birthday and later added a second finishing farm. He also grows tobacco and sweet potatoes with his uncle.
“I’m so thankful for the family and friends who have helped me along the way,” Coombs said. “Farming is hard work, seven days a week, but it’s what I love to do. It’s an honor to know that the work you are putting in is being noticed and appreciated.”