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Program Builds Leaders for North Carolina Agriculture

James Lamb in tractor cab.
James Lamb, an environmental specialist with Prestage Farms, values his experience with the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Agricultural Leadership Development Program.

With farmers making up only 2 percent of the population, James Lamb believes it’s more important than ever for them to let the public know about agriculture. That’s just one of the reasons he devoted 50 days over two years to a program aimed at preparing agricultural leaders for North Carolina.

Lamb said the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Agricultural Leadership Development Program turned out to be one of the most meaningful experiences of his life.

His sentiment is echoed among the hundreds of farmers and other agricultural professionals who’ve graduated from the program since it was started at NC State University more than 30 years ago.

The intensive program is designed to build both personal and civic leadership skills, said Dr. A. Blake Brown. Brown took over the program in 2014 from long-time director Dr. Bill Collins, who remains involved.

The program includes a series of seven two-and-a-half-day sessions focused on topics such as communications, conflict management, leadership and public policymaking.

“Participants also have a chance to work in teams on a leadership practicum and to take part in domestic and study tours,“ said Brown, NC State’s Hugh C. Kiger Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For example, Lamb and others selected to participate in the 2014-16 program traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with congressional delegates, lobbyists and others to discuss key agricultural policies and issues.  In Texas they met with farmers, agricultural leaders and representatives of border protection agencies. And they spent 12 days in Brazil, where they learned about international agriculture from some of their most important competitors in the global marketplace, Brown said.

Collins and other North Carolina agricultural leaders in North Carolina were responsible for building a $5 million endowment to fund the program. For that reason, participants only have to pay a nominal fee to participate, Brown said.

What they get in return is better knowledge of their individual strengths, connections with key North Carolina government and agriculture leaders, and concrete skills they can put to work right away.

Not only that, Lamb said, the program also gives participants insights that enable them in the long term to keep up with the pace of change that drives today’s agricultural industry.

Having grown up on a North Carolina tobacco farm in the 1980s, Lamb said he knows that “the one constant in life is change. … With leadership skills learned through this program, you will not fear change.”

NOTE: Farmers and other agricultural professionals are invited to apply for the 2017-19 North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Agricultural Leadership Development Program. Applications will be accepted through April 30. Tuition will be $1,600 per participant. For more information, see or contact Dr. Blake Brown at

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.

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