F. (for Francis) Perry Wilson is a farm boy who went to the big city 40 years ago and struck it rich, but he never quite left the farm. Now 57, the voluble Wilson still visits the family tobacco and cotton spread near Spray, N.C., that he owns with his three brothers. More important, as chairman and chief executive of Union Carbide Corp., he is turning the nation's second largest chemical company into a much faster-growing supplier to farmers. As he puts it, Carbide is "developing chemistry-based products to capitalize on the mechanization of agriculture."

Squeezed like all big chemical...

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