A career above ground: Working with trees in N.C.

by | Jun 8, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Bobby Smith, Tree Improvement Supervisor in the eastern part of the state with our N.C. Forest Service, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!

Bobby Smith, a Tree Improvement Supervisor in the eastern part of the state with the N.C. Forest Service, grew up surrounded by agriculture but not in the conventional way you would imagine. “My granddad was the neighborhood plumber after retirement, so he would go out to many local farms in our community to work on their water systems,” he said, “and I remember going with him on many occasions and enjoyed getting to know the farmers and their stories.” In fact, at the age of 16, Bobby started working with one of these farmers growing a variety of row crops, including tobacco and cotton as well as raising chickens and hogs. “That is really where my true love for the agriculture industry began,” he said.

Bobby attended Wayne Community College in Goldsboro where he obtained a degree in Ag Business. Upon graduation, he began looking for a job in the industry that allowed him experience in his field of interest, provided the opportunity to grow and satisfied his love for agriculture and the outdoors. “When a job with the Nursery and Tree Improvement Program became available, I knew that it was the perfect fit for me,” he said. “In fact, while I was waiting to figure out where I was going to start my career, I turned down a few other positions because I wanted this one so badly.” Twenty-two years later, Bobby still has the same love and passion for his job as he did on his very first day.

As a Tree Improvement Supervisor, Bobby spends his days breeding and testing Loblolly Pine and Longleaf Pine trees as well as a few other tree varieties. He also is responsible for seed production, seed processing, seed stratification, maintaining orchards and assisting with seedling sales across the state. “Every day in my job is different, which is one of the things that I love about it,” he said. “One day I could be in one of our orchards in the top of a pine tree collecting pollen or pinecones for testing and production, and another day I could be working in a progeny test anywhere from Lexington to Windsor.

Bobby also works with the N.C. Forest Service program that offers seedling sales both to private companies and citizens of the state each year. “A lot of people don’t know that they can come to us for tree seedlings to grow on their property,” he said. “They think that our program is just for reforestation companies and timber producers, but it isn’t. We sell seedlings in small and large quantities and work really hard to fit the needs of anyone who comes to us for seedling purchase.” According to Bobby, these seedling sales reinforce the true purpose of the N.C. Forest Service Nursery and Tree Improvement Program to the community and the agriculture industry at large. “This is the true reason that we are here, to preserve and reforest the beautiful trees of this state and provide them to the citizens of North Carolina,” he said.

Bobby and his co-workers are also members of the N.C. State Tree Improvement Cooperative, where they continually breed and test Loblolly pine to increase the timber value for North Carolina citizens and have many opportunities to educate people across the state on the importance of preserving the natural resources of our state as well as the variety of trees found here. “I love all kinds of trees,” Bobby said. “When I was younger, I probably had a favorite one, but I really couldn’t narrow it down today because they all serve a unique and specific purpose to our state, whether it be the economic, wildlife, or environmental value.”

Although Bobby loves a plethora of things about his job, which is evident in the passion that shines through the projects he takes on, he truly enjoys making a difference that will last for future generations. “Working in the Nursery and Tree Improvement Program is not something that you see results from today or tomorrow, but years later. It’s preparing for the future generations of this industry and this country,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in knowing that the work my co-workers and I are doing today will be recognized and noticed in the years to come.” He also truly loves being outside each day and simply getting to enjoy the natural beauty of our state.

For anyone seeking a career in the forest service industry, Bobby recommends giving it all you have every single day. “Get an education first and invest your time in hands-on working experience,” he said, “but no matter what you are doing, give it your all.”

When he is not at work, Bobby can be found enjoying some time with his family taking mini vacations to various parts of the state and enjoying the natural beauty that can be found in each spot. Join us in thanking him for all of his hard work!