Spotlight: Kenny Barnwell Orchards

AgSouth Spotlight Kenny Barnwell. In addition to apple farming-Barnwell is passionate about farmland preservation, fruit grower advocacy, and community service. A Farm Credit customer for over 30 years, we are proud to celebrate Kenny Barnwell, and all he has done for the agricultural community.

AgSouth Customer Spotlight: Kenny Barnwell

According to Kenny Barnwell, the last thing he ever thought he would be is a farmer. Now, he farms over 150 acres of apples and is the 2023 National Apple Grower of the Year. In addition to apple farming-Barnwell is passionate about farmland preservation, fruit grower advocacy, and community service. A Farm Credit customer for over 30 years, we are proud to celebrate Kenny Barnwell, and all he has done for the agricultural community.

AgSouth Customer Kenny Barnwell apple orchard farm in North Carolina.


Both sides of Kenny Barnwell’s family had been involved with apple growing for generations. But Barnwell had different plans for his life. He went to school at Greensboro College and got a degree in chemistry and biology. However, after graduating, he wasn’t sure if sitting in an office or laboratory was the right fit for him. Barnwell started helping his uncle in the family business. The more he worked in the apple industry-the more he realized that’s where he was meant to be. 

While Barnwell’s original life plan did not involve farming - he says he is glad he chose it in the end. Though, he says it was not always easy. When he first started out, it was just him and a tractor. 100-hour work weeks were typical those first few years. Barnwell planted his first orchard in 1983 and officially took over the family business in 1989. Barnwell structures his business by marketing some apples to packing houses that go to Ingles and Walmart grocery stores. He sells to farmers markets and fruit stands that spread from Kentucky all the way to Florida. He could have never dreamed that his family farm would have him being a distributer across the entire southeast. 


When asked about his passions: Barnwell immediately says, “farmland preservation”. He wants to see farms in Henderson County be successful for generations. Barnwell’s aim has always been to conserve while maintaining a productive operation. He works with North Carolina Extension Agents to use pesticides that are gentle and are targeted to specific insect species that attack apples. Working with North Carolina Research and Extension, his farm uses a predictive model for pesticide spraying to eliminate waste and increase productivity. 

According to Barnwell, he credits NC State Research and Extension for helping keep western North Carolina farmers in the apple business. “We are using reduced risk pesticides. That is the result of research and extension with NC State. It takes the synergy of everybody to make this operation sustainable,” says Barnwell. 

His family is a big reason why he is so passionate about farmland preservation. He knows firsthand it is a lot for someone new to come in and take over such a large operation. Barnwell worked for his uncle until he had enough income to go out on his own. He believes tax breaks could help young and beginning farmers get started in the industry. According to Barnwell, “there needs to be systems put in place to support young folks to keep agriculture alive.” 

Barnwell says a large issue he sees happening is the price of land in Henderson County and the average age of an apple grower. “If you’re not drawing social security, you are a young farmer in Henderson County. You have a lot of 70 plus year old apple farmers that do not have children looking to take over. That’s when having farmland preservation is so important.” 

Another issue Barnwell recognizes is that rural America is sending their best and brightest off to college, and they aren’t coming back to work the family farm. Barnwell believes the future of agriculture in Henderson County is direct markets and Agritourism. Barnwell says, “If young folks want to be successful in farming, they need to know the markets are there-they just must tap into them and be willing to work hard.” 


Barnwell believes in the power of relationships. He says it is imperative that farmers know their elected representatives at the local and state level. “Any time you have an elected official coming to town-go to those events and let those people know you and what you farm.” According to Barnwell it is our responsibility as farmers to be involved so that we have a voice in what happens. 

“If you talk to any apple grower in the area, they will say Kenny spends a lot of time and effort talking about the issues we have. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Advocating for positive change in the apple growing industry is what Kenny is known for,” says Mitchel Pridmore, AgSouth Regional Lending Manager. 

Staying relevant is always on the top of Barnwell’s mind. He wants fruit growers to not only survive but thrive. For this to happen, Barnwell says policies must be put in place to support farmers, especially fruit growers whose crops can be taken out by one cold chill or a bad storm. 


Barnwell has been a Farm Credit customer for over 30 years. In that time, he has had good years, bad years, and a lot of in-between. Barnwell says his loan officers understanding of agriculture has made all the difference and why he has kept his business with Farm Credit. “Farm Credit is different because when the loan officers see something advantageous for you, they will call. You don’t have to be on top of everything. They are very proactive about helping you.” According to Barnwell, he appreciates Farm Credit because they do everything that they can to keep farmers farming.

AgSouth Customer Kenny Barnwell with Loan Officer Mitchell Pridmore.


Barnwell’s community involvement drives him as well. He is the chairman of three local agriculture groups and has been president of the North Carolina Apple Growers Association four times. He encourages farmers to be involved at the local level for their voices to be heard. 

Barnwell has been honored recently with both a state and national award. He was recently inducted into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame as well as being chosen as the 2023 National Apple Grower of the Year. “There are some giants in the apple industry on that list. I am really humbled to be included,” says Barnwell. He was chosen for this award for his success as a farmer as well as his dedication to lobbying for apple farmers at the national level. 

The main takeaway Barnwell wants people to understand is “we grow good apples in Henderson County, and it is my hope that we will continue to do so in the future.” Without a doubt, Kenny Barnwell grows good apples. But maybe even more importantly, he has left a legacy of service to the agriculture industry that will not soon be forgotten.

Contact your local, trusted financial partner in the land, farm, and home buying process.