Managing a farm of any size is a tough job, so it’s hard to imagine the challenge of overseeing 18 different farms with around 90 different commodities across nearly 25,000 acres. Tommy Corbett in the N.C. Department of Agriculture doesn’t have to imagine. For him it’s a reality.
Corbett is the assistant director of operations for the Research Stations division in NCDA&CS. The stations are essentially working farms where agricultural research is done.
He’s a bit modest about his big job though. He points out that he mostly focuses on the twelve research stations that are fiscally under NCDA&CS, and he points out there’s a lot of forest land – more than 14,000 acres – that’s part of the research stations. Still, the six research stations that fall under N.C. State University are so seamlessly operated in partnership with NCDA&CS that it’s hard to see much separation. Even if those six stations and all the forest tracts are subtracted, more than 6,300 acres remain. It’s still a lot to manage. Modesty aside, it’s a big job to keep all the different research stations operating as they should.
Corbett is just getting settled into the job. He started his new role on June 1 after previously serving as the superintendent of the Peanut Belt Research Station in Bertie County for 16 years. He did double duty and was still helping lead the research station until September when a new superintendent was named.
“I’m still learning because with COVID I’m still able to get out, but this state is so wide I’m just getting around to seeing them all,” Corbett said. “Getting around to see what they have has been a challenge – determining what the stations need and which one needs it the most.”
While the superintendents at the 18 stations report directly to division director Kaleb Rathbone, it’s Corbett’s specific job to focus on the stations’ facilities and equipment. He doesn’t deal directly with work in the field or how the research projects are done on each station, but instead he coordinates renovations, repairs, maintenance and upgrades when possible. It’s the kind of thing that can improve life for station employees and help researchers do their best work in a modern era.
“A lot of what I do is working with the stations to make sure we can get their research projects completed,” Corbett said.
So Corbett always sees opportunities for improvement, and he’s driven to recognize needs and meet those needs on the research stations. Projects big and small come across his desk, including everything from fencing and new roofs, to brand new buildings. As just one example of need, Corbett said when many of the stations were established, tractors and equipment were smaller, and now there are shops that aren’t big enough for newer tractors and equipment that are larger and more technologically advanced.
As he settles in to his new position, Corbett hopes to make the tedious logistics a bit easier for each station superintendent.
“The biggest thing I want to see is being able to help the superintendents with these projects so things can be smoother. A lot of things have to go through the department’s Property and Construction division, and some have to go through the state property office. So the more I can prepare the superintendents for the process, the better,” Corbett said. “There are a lot of things that have to be done a certain way. Even being a superintendent for 16 years, I’m still learning about many of the steps in between.”
He says he’d also like to grow the safety program on the stations and make the safety training and protocols easier to keep up. Ultimately, that’s another factor in his mission to be sure the research stations have the tools they need to do the best research possible and serve the state’s farmers.
“I grew up on a farm where you did whatever needs to be done, and in this position I imagine that’s how it’ll be.”