Summary: Three men with broad agricultural backgrounds and wide impact have joined the N.C. Agricultural Hall of Fame. The 2020 class includes Fred N. Colvard, John Holman Cyrus and Marshall Grant – all unanimous selections. The reach of these men’s work has extended well beyond North Carolina’s borders and has provided solutions and improved markets for many farmers and agribusinesses.
Yesterday we started talking about the three new members of the N.C. Agricultural Hall of Fame. We focused on Fred N. Colvard. This week I want to tell your listeners a little about John Holman Cyrus.
He was a pivotal figure with regards to the state’s tobacco industry, serving for 37 years with the N.C. Department of Agriculture in various capacities, including Tobacco Program Administrator.
He served at a time when tobacco was the state’s No.1 commodity and the top crop grown by thousands of farmers statewide.
The industry’s influence stretched well beyond the farms and rural communities to larger cities where tobacco manufacturing and warehouses employed many workers and supported hospitals, universities and cultural programs.
It is still a very significant crop in this state, but as farms have diversified, we have seen livestock jump to the top spot in terms of production.
During Cyrus’ tenure, he saw significant changes in the industry, including how tobacco was marketed and harvesting practices.
He worked with growers to encourage them to keep lower stalk leaf off the market to improve prices, and advised them in the transition from selling tied tobacco to loose-leaf tobacco.
I think that would have been interesting to be involved in the industry as those types of changes occurred.
The loose-leaf system lead to innovative handling and packaging practices at the warehouse.
Of course, it is harvested, cured and handled completely differently today.
Early in his career with the department, Cyrus established an annual comprehensive tobacco market report.
Throughout his career, he also worked closely with all segments of the industry to encourage closer cooperation and understanding between tobacco growers, warehousemen, dealers and manufacturers.
N.C. Grange President Jimmy Gentry nominated Cyrus, because following his retirement from NCDA in 1986, he served as a lobbyist and consultant on tobacco issues for that organization for over 20 years.
He also continued working on behalf of the industry, serving with the N.C. Tobacco Advisory Council, the Tobacco Tax Council and N.C. State University Tobacco Foundation.
He was well respected for his extensive knowledge of all phases of tobacco production, harvest and processing, and he was sometimes referred to as “a walking tobacco encyclopedia.”
Three years of military service during WWII interrupted his college studies, but he graduated from N.C. State University in 1948 with a degree in agricultural education.
His public service was extensive as he was also active in his community and church, serving as a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner, and he was an active member of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
I mentioned last week that we house the N.C. Agricultural Hall of Fame in our department. Photos of the other 36 men and women who have been recognize hang in the Ag Hall of Fame room where we hold many of our departmental meetings.
I congratulate the Cyrus family for John Holman’s inclusion in the N.C. Agricultural Hall of Fame. Next week, we’ll talk about Northampton County farmer Marshall Grant.
I like seeing their photos on the wall because it reminds me of the incredible foundation laid by these visionary leaders. North Carolina agriculture is where it is today because of their sacrifice and dedicated service to farmers and the industry.
It is also impressive that the reach of their work stretches well beyond the borders of our state. That is certainly the case with our three newest members.