North Carolina Pork Council honors five for outstanding industry support

Awards including Outstanding Pork Producer of the Year, W.W. Shay Award for Industry Distinction and Excellence in Innovation.

March 12, 2024

6 Min Read
From left, Ashley DeDecker, Zeke McCullen, Jimmy Pollock, Brian Kennedy and Billy Flowers.NC Pork

The North Carolina Pork Council recognized five members recently for their contributions to the state’s pork industry. The ceremony took place during the awards luncheon at the annual NC Pork Conference.

NC Pork Hall of Fame

Jimmy Pollock of Kinston was inducted into the NC Pork Hall of Fame. Pollock has spent his entire career working with and serving pork producers to improve and strengthen the pork industry, a role that has benefited farm families across the state and the across the country.

Pollock’s contributions have been in a variety of different areas: research and education, through his careers with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service; production and management at JC Howard Farms in North Carolina and Alabama; and his industry service and leadership on the state and national levels with the North Carolina Pork Council, North Carolina Pork Producers Association and the National Pork Board.

“He served our industry during a time of great transition,” said Deborah Johnson, former CEO of the NC Pork Council. “He was involved in the North Carolina Pork Council and the National Pork Board when we saw our industry structure changing in North Carolina and folks knew they had a trusted person in Jimmy serving.

“Because of Jimmy’s strong relationships with producers across the state and country, his vast knowledge of the NC industry and its history, and the fact he is well-respected, I turned to him many times for information and sound advice during my time as NCPC President and CEO."

“I’m humbled and very honored to receive this award and be amongst the founding fathers and the elite people that have helped create and nurture and grow the swine industry in North Carolina,” said Pollock. “There are so many who contributed to the success and future of this industry.”

Outstanding Pork Producer of the Year

Brian Kennedy of Beaulaville received the Outstanding Pork Producer of the Year. Kennedy's career began at Prestage Farms in 1991 in the farrowing department on one of the company’s sow farms. Advancing over the years into other roles in the sow division, he eventually moved into swine finishing service. In 2011, he was tapped to lead Prestage’s swine finishing department. In this role, he is responsible for a service team that works with about 145 North Carolina contract growers and is expected to produce about 535 million pounds of pork this year.

“I have worked with Brian Kennedy his entire career. He strives to do his best every day and he doesn’t believe in finishing second,” said Zack McCullen, vice president of the Prestage Farms swine division. “That attitude and commitment contribute to his success on his family’s farms and in our finishing department.”

Kennedy served two terms on the board of directors and still serves on several NCPC committees. He was recognized in 2008 by NCPC as Pork All-American. On the national level, Kennedy and his wife, Sherry have represented North Carolina at the annual Legislative Action Conference in Washington, DC, and he has been appointed to the National Pork Producers Delegate Body seven times.

W.W. Shay Award for Industry Distinction

Billy Flowers of Raleigh received the W.W. Shay Award for Industry Distinction, named after the state’s first swine Extension specialist.

For more than 35 years, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in the Department of Animal Science at NC State University, has influenced students towards a career in the swine industry through his Animal Science 150 class.

“I kind of feel sorry for the folks who work with cattle or horses or sheep,” said Flowers. “Just give a student a soft, cuddly baby pig and of course they are going to hold it and look at it and study it and then I’ve got them hooked.”

But students will tell you that Flowers himself is part of the reason that they fell in love with pigs. He has an uncanny ability to remember and connect with students. “Before each semester, he memorizes something unique about each student and memorizes their faces. So I will always be Sara Dillon from Walkertown to him,” said Sara Hough, DVM. He converted her from wanting to do equine medicine to working with pigs. “It’s like he knew me better than I knew myself. I owe my career to him.”

Beyond working with students and cultivating a love for swine, Flowers, a reproductive physiologist, has had a tremendous impact on the swine industry, not just in North Carolina, but around the world. His research has focused on reproductive performance and lifetime productivity of the gilt. He pioneered the use of human ultrasound machines on the farm and is credited with helping the swine industry transition from natural mating to artificial insemination.

Award for Excellence in Innovation

Ashley DeDecker of Rocky Point was honored with the Award for Excellence in Innovation for her body of research that has spanned feed manufacturing, nutrition, welfare, reproduction, management, performance and productivity, animal health and meat quality.

“I come to work every single day trying to be innovative, which makes it really fun,” said DeDecker. “And I get to see all new technologies and innovations that are being developed. It’s always interesting to see where we could be in the next five years.”

Mallory Strickland, manager of animal welfare programs at Smithfield Foods, points to Decker’s role on animal welfare issues such as sow housing.

“What people don’t realize is that Dr. DeDecker does a lot of work that the industry has already implemented,” said Strickland. “A big component of what she did when she first came to Smithfield was evaluating our housing systems. She was a major contributor to Smithfield moving to group housing. She has had a huge impact on our animal care committee.”

Emerging Leader Award

Zeke McCullen of Clinton was awarded the Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes a pork producer aged 40 or younger who has contributed to the pork industry in North Carolina and exhibits potential for leadership. McCullen is a partner in McCullen Livestock LLC, which includes swine finishing farms and a 700-head cow-calf operation. On a daily basis, he manages 34 finishing barns that are on contract with Prestage Farms. He also grows, harvests and bales hay for his cows, and markets the excess.

McCullen is serving in his second term on the NCPC board of directors and serves on the NCPC promotions and outreach committee and the awards committee. On the local level, he is involved with livestock programs through the NC Cooperative Extension Service in Sampson County.

“There are a lot of future farmers who look up to Zeke,” said Joshua Coombs, a fellow board member and Sampson County pig farmer. “He is passionate about what he does every day. He and his wife Natalie strive to instill that same passion and love for farming in their sons, Hugh and Holt.”

McCullen says he has been glad to learn a whole new side of the industry through his service on the NCPC board of directors and sees a role to help his generation and the next to become more engaged.

“When Brian asked me to run for the Pork Council, I wasn’t much for that side of the business, but my dad encouraged me to run,” he said. “Now I’ve seen that side of the business, and I think it’s very, very important to advocate for our industry. With all the stuff going on in the world today, it seems like everyone is trying to attack and the Pork Council is out there fighting.”

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