A love of agriculture leads to a lifelong career

by | Nov 9, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Sam Brake, Agricultural Program Specialist with our N.C. Bioenergy Research Initiative at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station, 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!

Being born into the agriculture industry creates a sense of dedication and loyalty to farming, agriculture research and other industry pursuits. Sam Brake, Agricultural Program Specialist with our N.C. Bioenergy Research Initiative at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station, grew up on a family farm in Edgecombe County that raised corn, tobacco, dairy cattle and a variety of produce. “I always had a love for agriculture,” he said. “In fact, my very first full-time job was at the Upper Coastal Plains Research Station, and I’ve stayed involved in the industry ever since.”

Eight years ago, Sam started his position with the Oxford Tobacco Research Station. “Although I have been involved in the agriculture industry for over 50 years, I haven’t always worked at a research station,” he said, “so when I came to work here in 2014, it was almost like starting a new career path.” With his immense love for agriculture and desire to improve the industry and help those involved, Sam was a perfect fit for the role of Agricultural Program Specialist.

When Sam first started with the Oxford Tobacco Research Station, he helped get the New and Emerging Crops Program up and running. This program identifies and researches potential new crops for farmers in our state and provides education and marketing support to help assist in the growth and marketability of those products. Today, that program is managed by one of his co-workers, Hunter Barrier, and Sam oversees the Bioenergy Research Initiative. “This program was created during COVID-19 to help local producers with shortages and other issues faced because of the pandemic,” he said. “The focus of the initiative is to research and develop feedstocks for bioenergy production. We do this by helping small producers modernize facilities and apply more current technology to best position them moving forward.” The initiative is active in 50 counties across North Carolina and continues to make a huge difference in the lives of producers across the state.

In addition to managing the initiative and projects within it, Sam is also responsible for research project proposals at the beginning of the year, working with the Increasing Meat Production and Capacity (IMPEC) Grant Program team and helping farmers across the state through other research and development needs. “We strive to help local producers in any way that we can,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in our IMPEC grand program and the work that I did to help our team bring that to fruition. It impacted our farmers in incredible ways during a time where some of them were really struggling. Seeing how much it meant to them and the impacts that it made to their operations was extremely rewarding and made all the hard work worth it.”

Tobacco is one of the top crops being studied at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station because of how well it grows in that part of the state. “We research different varieties of tobacco to learn about their viability and profitability to N.C. farmers,” Sam said. “Currently we are studying cigar wrapper tobacco, which is a big buzz word across the agriculture industry.”

Although he loves many aspects of his job, Sam’s favorite part is getting to know the people across our state’s number one industry. “The dedicated and hard-working agriculture individuals across this state are simply amazing,” he said. “It’s not only incredible to hear their stories but it’s rewarding to develop those relationships and use my position here at the research station to help their operations succeed.”

When he is not working, Sam enjoys spending time with his wife, two daughters, four grandchildren and two grand-dogs at his home in Beaufort. “My wife and I like to do puzzles in the newspaper together in the morning and then spend the rest of our day with the grandkids when we can,” he said. “On the weekends I am usually completing my honey-do list!” Sam and his family also love to grill out and enjoy a home-cooked meal together. Join us in thanking Sam for all of his hard work!