By: Bryant M. Spivey, County Extension Director
Each year the Tobacco Great award is presented at North Carolina State University’s Tobacco Day Meeting. The award is typically presented not to tobacco growers, but those serving in some segment of the tobacco industry other than production or land grant university. However, this year’s recipient encompasses both of these titles – he is first and foremost a tobacco grower, but has also witnessed and influenced many changes in the tobacco industry over the years. J. Larry Barbour of the Cleveland Community is the recipient of this year’s Tobacco Great Recognition.
Although his family did not farm during his youth, being a farmer was always Larry’s goal. Following graduation from Cleveland High School in 1958, Larry produced his first tobacco crop. Since that first crop, Larry has been a very successful tobacco grower and today continues farming with his sons James and Jason and grandson Shepard. The Barbour family continues growing flue-cured tobacco, grain, sweet potatoes, and both Centipede and Bermuda sod. Larry takes great pride in stewardship of the farmland that he tends and also owns. He has worked diligently and has been blessed to purchase some of the most beautiful farms in the Cleveland Community.
In spite of managing and operating a successful farm enterprise, Larry is a dedicated servant to many farm leadership organizations that have played a vital role in the development of tobacco policy, market development, and research toward improving tobacco production. Larry’s history and service with NC Farm Bureau goes all the way back to his childhood. His father, Victor, served on the Johnston County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and during that time board members rather than agents both sold and collected the fees for farm and rural insurance. Many times Larry was by his father’s die as this business was being transacted, and from an early age he realized that organizations like Farm Bureau were important to help farmers and rural citizens.
As a result of his father’s influence, Larry got involved in the county Farm Bureau and was first elected to serve on the county board in 1965, a role that continues to present. He was later elected to the NC Farm Bureau Board of Directors in 1986 and to the NC Farm Bureau Executive Board in 1994 and he continues to serve on both of these boards today. In addition to serving with Farm Bureau, Larry also served on the County Committee for the USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and later Farm Service Agency from 1972 to 2006.
Larry has also been a strong proponent of improving the export markets for flue-cured tobacco and has served on the Tobacco Associates Board of Directors from 1986 to the present time, including serving as chairman of the organization from 1987-1988. In addition, Larry has served on the NC Ag Foundation Board representing tobacco since 1992 and has been on many local boards, including the Cooperative Extension Advisory Council, First Citizens Community Board of Directors, and was a charter member of the Cleveland Fire Department.
One major role for Larry Barbour is that of ambassador for both US and NC flue-cured tobacco. Larry has traveled the world promoting tobacco, dating back to a trip to China in the late 1970s with Governor James B. Hunt. Other trips include England and Portugal in the 1990s, and trips to Canada, Mexico, and Brazil to gain a better understanding of their production systems. In 2013 Larry traveled with a trade mission group led by Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler to Bulgaria and Switzerland to promote NC Ag products including tobacco.
It is a great honor to recognize J. Larry Barbour for his efforts to make all NC Tobacco Growers more successful.