As newly appointed executive director of the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association, David Parrish says he had hoped to grow into the job as long-time Director Billy Carter gradually moved into retirement.

Unfortunately, Carter a one-time award winning North Carolina cotton farmer and long-time head of the state’s grower association, died on Jan. 1 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

Replacing a legend is never easy, under any circumstances, but losing a long-time friend and professional mentor in such a sudden and tragic set of circumstances makes Parrish’s job even tougher.

Carter had hand-picked the North Carolina native as his replacement and had the unofficial okay from the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association Board to hire Parrish as his assistant. That arrangement would likely have been made official at the cotton growers’ 60th annual meeting in New Bern in January.

Instead, David Parrish was named to the leadership position. His steep learning curves, he says, will be made a lot easier by an experienced group of grower/leaders, whose positions were also confirmed at the recent annual meeting in New Bern.

Officers for the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association for 2011 include, Gary Respess, a long-time cotton farmer and ginner from Pantego, N.C. Respess says he is confident David Parrish is the right man for the job. “Billy Carter left some big shoes, but I’m confident David will fit right in and do a great job for our growers,” Respess says.

Other North Carolina Cotton Grower Associaton leaders include: David Grant, vice-president, from Garysburg, N.C.; Donny Lassiter, secretary, from Conway, N.C.; David Dunlow, treasurer, from Gaston, N.C.; Ronnie Burleson, immediate past president, from Richfield, N.C.; Edgar Edens, from Red Springs, N.C. and Taylor Slade, from Williamston, N.C., executive committee members.

Parrish says he knows the road will be tough, but feels confident because of the willingness of leaders on the board of directors to help him learn the ropes. “Cotton has been a part of my business life — for all my business life,” he says.

He began his career in cotton before he graduated from high school, working for legendary North Carolina Cotton Consultant Danny Pearce. “I worked for Danny for several years from high school until I graduated from North Carolina State University.

Started out in scouting

“I started out scouting cotton fields and really learning a lot about how cotton is grown. Danny never took short-cuts, he always did things the right way, and that gave me a good education on some of the challenges cotton farmers faced,” Parrish says.

He worked for Pearce for several years, including a couple of years in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program in Wayne County, N.C. He then took a job with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture as manager of a boll weevil management program.

“That’s when I first started working with Billy. He managed finances for the North Carolina Boll Weevil Foundation. And, I had a chance to work a lot with North Carolina cotton growers and got to know Billy and to appreciate the work he did on behalf of cotton growers in the state,” Parrish says.

“If I had a problem I couldn’t handle, I knew Billy’s door was always open and he was always willing to help. He seemed to know everybody in the cotton industry and one call from him seemed to open a lot of doors,” he adds.

“Over the past five years, I worked closely with Billy. He was the kind of guy you could go into his office to talk for a few minutes about boll weevil eradication and end up talking for a couple of hours about everything from politics to eating dinner with Fidel Castro,” Parrish says.

“Billy included me and a lot of young people in the cotton industry and really in all of agriculture in the business end of our industry. He was interested in cotton, but he was also interested in the well being of all of agriculture.” At the recent joint commodity meeting of soybean, corn, small grain and cotton grower associations in New Bern, Carter was sited by each group for his contributions to all of North Carolina agriculture.

Learning his new job will be a challenge, Parrish says. “We’ve divided up some of the responsibilities among our leadership, and I think everyone was amazed at how many things Billy did — it looks like it may take 12-15 people to do all the things he did,” Parrish jokes.

On a day-to-day basis he will be working with various board members to determine some of the most pressing state and national issues faced by cotton growers and begin the process of learning how best to help farmers overcome some of these challenges.

“I was planning on working a 2-3 year apprenticeship in which I learned as much as I could and begin working on some of the most pressing issues our growers face. We sat down on Dec. 23, to talk about the job and a few days later he was in a car wreck and died a few days after that,” Parrish explains.

“I grew up around farming, back to working with my grandfather on the farm, and I still live on the family farm. I knew from when I was little boy that I wanted to be involved in agriculture in some way, but I never dreamed it would be at this level, but I’m so proud that Billy had confidence in me, and I’m determined to make it work,” he adds.

rroberson@farmpress.com