A farmer for four decades, Thomas “Richard” Barber Jr.’s career has been one of service to Florida agriculture and to the nation’s peanut industry.
Barber has been president of the Marion County Farm Bureau twice and was part of the initial group that formed the Florida Peanut Producers Association, an organization in which he also served as president. Among many other involvements in agriculture, he has served on the Board of Directors of the Florida Watermelon Growers Association, Florida Peanut Advisory Board, Florida Foundation Seed Producers, North Florida Farm Credit Service, National Peanut Council, and the National Peanut Growers Group.
In February 2000, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman appointed Barber to a three-year term representing Florida on the National Peanut Board. That year, Barber was also appointed Chairman of the Research Committee for the National Peanut Board. In 2001, Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson appointed Barber to a four-year term on the Florida Agricultural Advisory Council. One of his proudest achievements was being recognized as the 1995 Sunbelt Expo Florida Farmer of the Year.
Barber was born in Ocala on August 23, 1938, into an agricultural tradition passed on by his parents, both of whom came from farming families. In high school he was active in the Future Farmers of America, and that experience led him to get his bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Florida in 1961, which led to a career in farming peanuts, watermelon, and cattle.
He began growing watemelons in 1963 and peanuts in 1969. As the years went by, he bought more land and put farms together to increase their efficiency. In 1979, Barber had the first crop rotation in Marion County approved by the Soil Conservation Service: Bahia-melons-rye for cattle grazing; peanuts-rye for cattle; peanuts-rye for cattle; Bahia for seed and grazing for five years; and then back to the same rotation, keeping the soil covered with crop at all times. His farming practices also include using less herbicide than called for on the label and cultivating peanuts when possible. In 1997, he started strip till peanuts, which is a new environmental practice that stops wind erosion and conserves moisture.
With an understanding of the necessity for political involvement, Barber has lobbied at the state and national level since 1969, and for the past 30 years has made personal contact with many elected officials at all levels of government to whom he advocated agriculture business and issues. In 1998, through his contact with members of the Constitutional Revision Commission, he was able to add his influence to keep the Commissioner of Agriculture as a member of the Florida Cabinet with voting authority and a voice for agriculture. Barber worked for the Food Quality Protection Act in 1999 to allow agriculture to have the chemicals needed to protect and preserve crops and animals, and during the same year for a bill that would allow farmers and ranchers to set aside money to pay for potential crop losses.
Barber has used the strength of the organizations to which he belongs to channel his views and improve the industry he loves. He believes in the land and its products, and that one should give back to the land more than one takes from it.
Barber and his wife, Pamela, live in Ocala. They have one son, two daughters, and four grandchildren.