Precision Agronomist Justin O’Ferrell did not always want a career in agriculture.
His dad worked in the citrus industry and his grandparents were in cattle and honeybees, but when O’Ferrell first looked at college programs, he decided to major in accounting. It wasn’t until his brother introduced him to the Ag Institute and Undergraduate Program Director John Russ that he realized his passion.
“I got to the Ag program at NC State and fell in love again,” O’Ferrell said. “I had no desire to look at four walls all day. Ag is what I am going to stick with.”
In his current role at Nutrien Ag Solutions, O’Ferrell manages all of their precision ag in North Carolina and South Carolina. His analysis of data helps growers get the best return on their investment.
Managing the Division’s Precision Ag
“With our software program, we also do soil sampling, tissue sampling, scouting and crop planning for the grower and farmers,” he said. “Then we also have a drone operation division where we take an agricultural drone and spray crops across North and South Carolina.”
According to O’Ferrell, no workday is the same, but most days, he is coordinating with his team on where the drones will operate or where they will sample. Over the summer, he is responsible for coordinating tissue sampling and scouting throughout his division with their interns.
“We soil sample about 30 to 40,000 acres a year within my department,” he said. “So I have to coordinate our guys doing that. Then I could also be training on a software program.”
Although it is a difficult job to manage all of the division’s operations at once, O’Ferrell enjoys the impact he gets to make on individual growers.
“My favorite part of the profession is probably interacting with the growers,” he said. “Being able to take their operation and see how we can make it more efficient and use precision ag to help them better their operations.”
Hands-on Knowledge Gained From Ag Business Management
From farm visits to networking, the two-year Ag Institute program allowed O’Ferrell to dive deeper into ag operations.
“Being in the ABM program helped me get the hands-on knowledge to move to the next level,” he said. “It gave me the capability to look at a business or farm and see what goes into it.”
When he thinks back on his time in the program, one thing that stands out is the opportunity he had to visit California over one of his spring breaks.
“That was a great experience,” O’Ferrell said. “And that was with the help of John Russ.”
According to O’Ferrell, Russ, who frequently takes students on trips to visit various farms, was instrumental in starting his career in agriculture.
“He helped me get my foot in the door with the USDA in college working for them, and he has been a great reference for me for other jobs,” he said. “He’s probably one of the main contributors to where I got started, and where I am today.”
O’Ferrell’s advice for current and future ag business students is simple: take networking seriously. Just going to class isn’t enough, he said.
“The people you meet at NC State will be lifelong friends, or they will be people you will know in the industry that will be there to help you,” he said. “Even people I went to school with 10-12 years ago that I don’t talk to anymore, when I see them out and about in the industry, we can lean on each other.”
Interested in learning more about the ABM program? Visit our Undergraduate Programs page.