Jerome Vick honored with Tobacco Great award

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SMITHFIELD — Wilson County farmer Jerome Vick told about 250 tobacco farmers to “never give up.”

Vick was presented with a prestigious Tobacco Great award Thursday at the 2017 Tobacco Day event held at the Johnston County Agricultural Center.

The annual event is event is presented by North Carolina State University, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the Tobacco Growers of North Carolina.

Tobacco Day is a time when different specialists come in and give presentations on their research from the past year. The program has been going on since the 1970s and attracts people in the whole flue-cured tobacco growing region from Virginia to Florida.

The Tobacco Great award is given to people involved in the tobacco industry who have made significant impacts.

“We’ve got a lot of things going for us,” Vick said upon receiving the award. “We’ve got N.C. State. We’ve got the best land in the world to grow tobacco. You’ve got the best farmers in the world. We’ve got the best commissioner of agriculture money can buy. So I don’t know what else we could ask for. Just don’t give up. Don‘t ever give up.”

Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson, outlined just a few of the things Vick has done over the years.

“He has not only been a tobacco farmer, but he has been a leader to the tobacco farming industry,” Harrell said. “He has served as a past president and founding member of the North Carolina Tobacco Growers Association. He has been involved in other areas of tobacco, serving on the Golden Leaf Foundation board and it is also more broad-spectrum than just tobacco. He has been involved a lot in sweet potato production, serving on state boards, but overall, it’s the leadership and the dedication that Jerome has provided to the tobacco industry.”

Vick, a Wilson County native who went to Bailey High School and graduated from Wayne Community College, began farming full-time in 1975 with his wife Diane, Harrell said

“The Vick Family Farms tend over 6,000 acres in Wilson, Edgecombe and Nash counties,” Harrell said. “They grow tobacco, soybeans, cotton, wheat and sweet potatoes, which are stored, packaged and shipped year-round from their certified facilities. Additionally, they also sell sweet potato plants each spring.”

Harrell said that Vick is well known for being pretty quick-witted.

“Back when he was serving as president of the association and they were meeting at Dorton Arena, this was a time when the smoking bans began and there was a smoking ban in Dorton Arena, a reporter came and asked Jerome what he thought of the smoking ban,” Harrell said. “His quick-witted response was ‘Tobacco money built this building. If we burn it down, we’ll build another one.’”

According to Harrell, the Vick family’s success and leadership has received its share of recognition.

The Vicks have received state recognition from the North Carolina Soil Conservation as the Farm Family of the Year, as well as the North Carolina Tobacco Growers Association Farm Family of the Year and the Humanitarian of the Year. Jerome Vick received the Excellence in Agriculture Award from the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly.

“Jerome is very deserving of this recognition and he joins a great list of recipients from Wilson County,” Harrell said.

Other recipients of the Tobacco Great award with Wilson County connections include S.M. “Zeke” Cozart, John Campbell, Randy Harrison, Marvin Coghill and Rick Smith, who worked in Wilson.

Vick was gracious in accepting the award.

“I am being added to a list of some real good tobacco folks, but I am in the room with the best tobacco people in the world,” Vick said. “You guys are the tobacco greats.”

Vick said he got sick in 2002 and laid on his back for 90 days in intensive care at Duke Hospital.

“But we didn’t ever give up,” Vick said. “Don’t ever give up. Ever, ever, ever. Don’t ever give up.”

Vick said that now is “a critical time in the tobacco industry.”

“We all get frustrated sometimes,” Vick said. “My son came home with a load of tobacco one day. He carried about 53 bales to town and brought home 10 of them. He said ‘Daddy, they don’t like our tobacco down there.’ He said, ‘What am I going to do with it?’ I said, ‘Lyn, sometimes tobacco likes to ride.’”

Vick told his son to “leave it on the truck.”

“I said ‘Well, let’s just carry it back and see,’” Vick remembered. “He carried it back the next day and he unloaded it and they said ‘That’s what we wanted all the time.’”

Vick was highly complimentary of the tobacco growers in the room.

“What I’m telling you all growers is y’all know more about tobacco in five minutes than these scientists,” Vick said. “I ain’t putting you (the scientists in the room) down, but you know more about it than they know about it all day long.”

Vick told the group that the real tobacco great was his wife, Diane.

“This crop gets frustrating,” Vick said. “We had a crop one time, it blew down flat on the ground and we stood it up the next day. And after that, darn if it didn’t blow down again the other way. So what do we do? We stood it back up. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to keep standing it up.”

Also honored Thursday with Tobacco Great awards were Randy Watkins and Don Watkins, of Granville Equipment Co. of Oxford, for equipment development and manufacturing that has helped mechanize tobacco farms throughout the U.S. flue-cured production region.