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AGRICULTURE


CHAD BALLARD III PRESIDENT, BALLARD FISH & OYSTER CO. INC., CAPE CHARLES


Ballard leſt his job as an investment banking analyst in 2008 to focus on selling Misty Points, Chincoteague Salts and Littlenecks, oysters and clams that have been his family’s livelihood for five generations, going back


more than 125 years. Ballard Fish & Oyster Co., which employs more than 150 people across all its locations, is the parent company of Cherrystone Aqua- Farms and Chincoteague Shellfish Farms. Virginia leads the East Coast in hard clam and Eastern oyster production, according to a report from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. But the multimillion-dollar industry faced hardships in 2020, with restaurants closed due to the pandemic. A graduate of Washington and Lee University, Ballard is an associate board


member on the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and serves on the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association board. In April 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Ballard to the state's


COVID-19 Business Task Force. This March, Ballard announced the sale of Cherrystone Family Camping Resort to Sun RV Resorts for $9.8 million.


BEST ADVICE FOR OTHERS: Advice is the most insincere form of communication.


FIRST JOB: Retail associate at Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach


CORWIN HEATWOLE CEO, FARMER FOCUS, HARRISONBURG


A sixth-generation farmer who grew up helping raise poultry, Heatwole bought his first farm at 23, learned organic farming, grew his flocks and in 2014 started Shenandoah Valley Organics, now called Farmer Focus. Heatwole leads Harrisonburg’s sixth-largest employer, with more than 500 workers. Farmer Focus now represents more than 60 family farms that are certified humane and sell USDA Organic chickens under the Farmer Focus brand. Using a product ID, customers can trace their poultry to the farms where the birds originated and read about the farmer in online profiles. In December 2019, the company announced that it had closed a $15 million funding round with Open Prairie and other investors, led by Richmond-based NRV. Heatwole said the investment for marketing and modernizing plants would increase the company’s volume. Farmer Focus is currently expanding


further, building two facilities in Acorn LC Industrial Park, a move expected to create 110 jobs.


WAYNE F. PRYOR


PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, HADENSVILLE


Pryor leads Virginia’s largest nonprofit agricultural membership organization, with nearly 130,000 members. A Goochland County hay and grain producer, Pryor was elected to his eighth two-year term as the federation’s president in December 2020. His organization counts more than 500 employees in Virginia. He serves as board president and chairman of the


Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co. and as presi- dent, CEO and chairman of Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. Pryor also serves on several agricultural insurance boards, and he’s active in other areas of the


30 VIRGINIA 500


industry, including serving in leadership roles for the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation & Rural Sustainability, as well as the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. Additionally, he’s a member of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Leadership Council. One of the Virginia Commonwealth University


alum’s current goals is to expand broadband access in rural areas, a focus of Gov. Ralph Northam’s adminis- tration, which is advocating for full coverage in the commonwealth by 2024.


MOST RECENT BOOK READ: “A Time for Mercy,” by John Grisham


FAVORITE VACATION DESTINATION: Norfolk Canyon, off Virginia Beach


GEORGE C. FREEMAN III CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNIVERSAL CORP., RICHMOND


Freeman’s entry to Universal Corp., the world’s biggest supplier of leaf tobacco, came through the legal profession. A former associate with Hunton Andrews Kurth, Freeman served as Universal’s general counsel and secretary for nearly five years. He became the company’s president in December 2006, and in 2008, he took over chief executive and board chairman duties. A former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.,


Freeman lately has been diversifying the company, including the $170 million acquisition last September of Silva International Inc., an importer of dried vegetables, fruits and herbs. Along with the acquisitions of other plant-based businesses, including FruitSmart Inc. and Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients, Freeman expects 10% to 20% of the company’s income to be in that sector by fiscal year 2022, he said last year. Universal’s $1.98 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ending in


June 2021 was up 4% from the previous year, and it was one of 39 companies based in Virginia to land on the Fortune 1000 list this year. Freeman also serves on the boards of Tredegar Corp. and the insurance company Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia.


NEIL A. HOUFF PRESIDENT AND TRANSLOADING OPERATIONS MANAGER, HOUFF CORP., WEYERS CAVE


Houff studied agriculture and economics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1996 and joining his family- founded company — which grew from a dairy farm in Weyers Cave — building on specialized equipment that applied liquid fertilizer. Houff’s Feed and Fertilizer was founded in 1975, becoming a prominent Shenandoah Valley business. It rebranded as Houff Corp. in 2017.


The employee-owned company has its roots in agriculture, offering crop protection, seed sales and fertilizer. It also provides industrial services, includ- ing transloading, storage and third-party logistics. It expanded its transload operations to Cliſton Forge in 2018, serviced by CSX Corp. Houff Corp. also aligns with sister companies Blue


Ridge Petroleum Co. and IDM Trucking Inc., which together form Railside Enterprises Inc. Houff serves on the board for IDM Trucking, which hauls more than 12,000 loads per year across the mid-Atlantic region. He’s also active in the Virginia Crop Production Association board, and last year he was appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam to his second four-year term on the state Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services, on which Houff serves as vice president.


Wayne F. Pryor photo by Shaban Athuman/Richmond Times-Dispatch


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