AgPack Strong: ‘Innovative Farmer of the Year’

CALS grad Brandon Batten sitting on a tractor

By Rebecca Nagy

Brandon Batten graduated from the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) in 2008. He went on to earn his master’s degree from BAE in 2010 working with Professor Mike Boyette on ways to make tobacco curing barns more efficient. As an NC State student, Brandon won the Fred G. Bond Tobacco Scholarship and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), NC Section Scholarship.

He was recently named the recipient of the 2017 Innovative Farmer of the Year Award by The Tobacco Farm Life Museum.

Read on to learn more about Brandon and his path to success.

What led you to NC State?

I guess, blood. My dad went to NC State; I’ve always wanted to go to State. It was the only college I applied to. I didn’t actually know there was such a thing as BAE until I went to a Farm Bureau program called Future Institute for Ag Leaders and I found out that you could do agricultural engineering, which were the two things I wanted to do. So that pretty much sealed the deal.

How has your time at NC State prepared you for your career?

I’m a farmer – I farm with my dad and uncle in Johnston County. We farm about 600 acres of cropland, hay and cattle. Farming is a challenge. There are challenges every day. During my education in BAE, I was taught to be a problem-solver. To think outside the box. The solution may not be what’s always been done. It may be something that’s never been done. And that’s what I do every day in farming. I find creative solutions for everyday problems to hopefully operate a little bit more efficiently and a little bit more effectively because of that.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Farming is always different. Every day I have to be an agronomist, an accountant, an engineer, a public relations specialist, a marketer … I wear a lot of different hats every single day doing a lot of different things. It’s just fast paced. Always a challenge and always changing.

Can you talk about the efforts that led to your award?

Some of the efforts that led to the award were continuous of my graduate work — I had designed and manufactured some retrofits for our tobacco barns to make them cure a little bit more efficiently. We’ve added a lot of precision agriculture technology on our farm since I came back, such as auto-steer and GPS guidance. A lot of farming is not exempt from the regulations of the world. I’ve added a cloud-based record keeping system so that everybody on the farm can put in what they’re doing and it automatically uploads and we can all see and have a real-time record of everything that’s going on.

How did BAE shape where you are today?

BAE gave me a broad skill set that I could literally take anywhere in the world and make a living with.

BAE was a great start to my career. I knew a lot about farming, but the engineering aspect can carry over into any field that you want to take it to. It teaches you to be a critical thinker and to solve problems, whether that’s budgeting problems or mechanical problems or electrical problems. I’m able to do a lot of my own repair work. I’m able to create systems that work for us that may not be available or in place commercially. BAE gave me a broad skill set that I could literally take anywhere in the world and make a living with.

What advice would you give to students just starting out in CALS?

I would say to take advantage of all the opportunities that are offered to you. It’s busy and college is tough but it’s nothing compared to the real world. Everybody in college wants to help you. Take advantage of that. Take business classes. Try to do an internship, co-op or study abroad. I did an internship while I was in college and that really opened my eyes as to the way corporate America works. I knew the farming side but I didn’t know the corporate side of agriculture, and I got a chance to see that with an internship at Philip Morris. In this engineering internship, I worked on the mechanization of burley tobacco. I traveled all over the burley tobacco region working with growers. I got to talk to them about mechanization and opportunities to increase efficiency on their farms. It really helped me better understand the need for being able to communicate with a lot of different kinds of people.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The best thing I got out of NC State was my wife, who was also in BAE with an environmental concentration. She graduated in 2010 when I finished with my master’s. She’s a stormwater engineer for the City of Fayetteville.

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