Running on four hooves and an agriculture dream

By on June 22, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Will Thompson, Livestock Marketing Specialist, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!

Livestock are often not the only thing that are bred into the agriculture industry. Many individuals are born into the industry and raised with a love and passion for the lifestyle, including Livestock Marketing Specialist, Will Thompson.

Will was born into a multi-generational family farm that grew cotton and raised cattle. “Back then they did what most families in the area did, which was farm to survive,” he said, “so I was bred into it at a young age and have let it drive my life ever since.” In addition to his full-time job, Will continues to manage a beef cattle herd of his own, currently managing about 60 momma cows, as well as helps on his parent’s beef cattle farm.

After attending community college and working for many years as an auctioneer for livestock and farm equipment, Will started his career with the NCDA&CS in 2005 as an Animal Health Technician. In that role, he worked with many livestock industry producers, as well as had heavy involvement in the agriculture events and fairs across the state, that helped prepare him for his most recent role as a Livestock Marketing Specialist. “I live in Western North Carolina, so I’ve had heavy involvement with the N.C. Mountain State Fair for about 14 years, having served as the Director of Livestock for nine of those years,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot in this industry both through my professional work with the NCDA&CS and my own personal endeavor of owning and operating a beef cattle farm that has helped prepare me for my role today.”

As a Livestock Marketing Specialist, Will works with producers across the state in many troubleshooting scenarios and growth opportunities, including program development, bottom line metrics and expansion and industry/community involvement. “Animal agriculture professionals face many challenges in their day-to-day life, and it is my job to do everything that I can to make that job easier, including helping them market their product in the best way possible and expand their branding,” he said. He also continues to have heavy involvement with livestock shows across the state, including the N.C. State Fair and the N.C. Mountain State Fair. “In my previous position, I helped a lot with animal inspections as they arrived at the facility,” he said, “but now I will be more on the management side of the operation, ensuring proper execution, sponsorships, etc.” He also continues to function as one of the auctioneers at the Livestock Sale of Champions each year at the N.C. State Fair.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of new challenges for livestock producers across the state, including the cancellation of many livestock shows throughout 2020. Will and his co-workers worked hard to ensure that a livestock show would happen in September despite the cancellation of the N.C. Mountain State Fair. “It was hard work because we had a lot of restrictions to overcome and work through,” he said, “but it brought a lot of pride to see that our efforts gave these kids a chance to showcase the hard work they had put in with their animal that year, fill the void of missing in-person livestock shows and bring a smile to their face.”

In a world that is constantly changing, growing and evolving, building awareness and interest in our state’s agriculture industry in young people is more important than ever. For those seeking a career in the animal agriculture industry, Will recommends building connections and getting hands-on experience with a local farmer. “Having the proper education is extremely important so I always encourage pursuing a degree at an ag school,” he said. “However, there is nothing quite like learning from the hand of the master. Find a local farmer, ask to get involved on the farm and learn on-the-ground life skills that can’t be taught any other way than hands-on experience.” Will and his co-workers continue to take great pride in watching kids come through the livestock shows, exceed in the arena and grow up to teach their own families to do the same.

Throughout his career, Will has also helped in various emergency situations, including agricultural damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence (2018). “A group of us from the NCDA&CS went down to the Burgaw area and carried feed and hay into places where humans and animals alike were stranded and struggling,” he said. “I hope that I never have to see that type of devastation in my life again but knowing that I was able to lend a hand to those individuals, not just then but also through the years it has taken for them to recover, makes me proud to do what I do every day.”

Although he truly enjoys networking and building relationships with producers across the state, Will has his sights focused on creating an impact on the agriculture industry that will be furthered in future years. “I want to leave a lasting impact on this industry both through new programs and pushing existing programs,” he said. “Working in this family-oriented industry, you become close to the people you encounter and work with. I want to know that when my time is up and I retire, I’ve left a strong enough legacy that leaves a mark and can be picked up, continued and improved upon by the next generation.”

When he is not working, Will can be found auctioning off livestock and farm equipment across the state, maintaining his family cattle farm or enjoying a moment of peace hunting and fishing in the beauty of our state mountains. Join us in thanking Will for all of his hard work ensuring the success of our livestock producers!

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