From an early age, NC State Extension struck a chord with Richard Reich. He fondly remembers county agents sharing crop management advice that put his family farm in Forsyth County on stronger footing, especially after his father passed away at an early age.
Now Reich sings the praises of a new effort that may have as much impact on farmers’ success as the advent of extension itself – in North Carolina and eventually the world: the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI).
Largely through extension, N.C. PSI will deliver next-generation technologies and team-based research that will ultimately help farmers increase agricultural productivity in the face of a rapidly growing world population, dwindling farmlands, climate and water shifts, and emerging crop diseases and pests.
Reich decided to champion the N.C. PSI in part by supporting construction of N.C. PSI’s future headquarters, the NC State University Plant Sciences Building, by naming the Richard C. & Marcia H. Reich Study Room in their family’s honor.
Reich made his career serving NC State Extension – and the countless growers, consultants, and industry experts who benefit from it. He became a county agent himself before ultimately becoming Assistant Commissioner at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS).
With his bird’s-eye view of the agricultural industry and his continuing involvement with CALS, Reich learned about the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative when it was just a concept. He saw its potential for North Carolina growers and has supported it at each phase of development.
We sat down with Reich to learn more about his love for extension, his interests in the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, and the many experiences that shaped this three-time NC State graduate, who earned a B.S. degree in agronomy, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in soil science from CALS.
What was your first experience with NC State?
My first contact with NC State was as a child. My father worked closely with county agents through the local extension office. As I grew up on our small farm in Forsyth County, Dad was actively involved with a group called the Young Agricultural Leaders Organization. That’s where I learned a lot about extension: how they helped us by sharing information and technologies intended to improve our operations. As a result, it would make our farm – and our lives – better. That concept really impressed me at an early age.
What made you such a strong supporter of NC State Extension?
As I mentioned, my father died when I was 19. I had just finished my freshman year at NC State. That was a time in our lives when we had strong support from family, but we also had technical assistance from Cooperative Extension. Our relationship with Cooperative Extension really helped us to be successful in harvesting and selling our crops – and surviving that growing season when my father died on July 9. That’s 50 years ago this year. I basically became a young farmer overnight and was determined not to let my family down. You might say I grew up fast.
We used guidance from NC State Extension. They allowed us to be successful. Because of extension, we were one of the first in our community to have a bulk tobacco barn, which was a brand-new technology in the early ‘70s. So we were buying equipment that was a new way to save on labor and increase production and profits. I worked closely with extension through our family and as a young farmer.
Why are you supporting the construction of the NC State Plant Sciences Building?
Well, I see the potential for the N.C. PSI to be the most significant development in my lifetime in terms of impacting agriculture for the future. It’s a tangible commitment to the future of agriculture in North Carolina. It provides a base for attracting the best talent and the best scientists – and hopefully the best students. But ultimately it supports North Carolina agriculture, and I wanted to do something that would be helpful to the future of ag in this state. Commissioner Steve Troxler always emphasises the importance of research. We know that agriculture depends on research. Research is the key to the future in answering questions and solving problems, what Dean Rich Linton calls the big challenges for agriculture in the future.
Why did you decide to name a study room in your family’s honor?
It’s a symbolic and significant gesture to be a small part of such a huge overall effort. I was associated with that project from its earliest beginnings. This gave me the opportunity to claim my association and support for that project.
Marcia and I also did it to honor our families. The middle initials in the “Richard C. Reich and Marcia H. Reich Study Room” carry a lot of meaning for us. They speak to the importance of family and the tradition of remembering parents. The “C” in my middle name stands for Carlton: an ongoing reminder of my father, Carl William Reich, Jr. He died when I was only 19. His memory is very important to me – and to my son and his son – who share Carlton in their middle names. The “H” honors James Franklin Hedgecock, Jr., Marcia’s father, who gave me lots of good advice and counsel over the years.
What role did NC State Extension play in your own career?
I ended up becoming an extension intern in 1973. They had a program involving undergraduate students. They chose two in each department. I was fortunate enough to work as an extension intern in Yadkin County. Then when I graduated with my master’s degree, I became an assistant ag agent in Lincoln County from ‘76 to ‘78, and then I worked in Guilford County from ‘78 to ‘81.
So I’ve known NC State Extension as a farm family, as a farmer, as an intern and an agent. I went to national meetings. I got to meet national leaders. During that time as an extension agent, I felt like I had a friend in every county of the country, because just about every county in America at the time had an extension agent. All of that reinforced my commitment to agriculture and NC State.
When I left extension for the corporate world, I became a corporate partner. And when I left the corporate world and entered state government at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, I became a public partner. My relationships with extension had changed, but I still had significant and ongoing relationships with NC State Extension. I continue to support CALS and NC State Extension by serving as chair of the external advisory board for the Crop and Soil Sciences Department. We advocate for research, extension and education needs in the college.
You have seen many issues in agriculture as an assistant commissioner at NCDACS. In your opinion, what are the biggest issues that N.C. PSI can help solve?
Well, I look at N.C. PSI in a broader way. Research is more team-based and interdisciplinary than it has ever been. When you used to talk about being interdisciplinary, you talked about the crops and soils department working together with botany, plant pathology and entomology. Now interdisciplinary means adding bioinformatics and computer-based technology and engineering. Now you have colleges doing interdisciplinary work, even a lot more than in the past. And so the platform, or the model, for that work has changed. They talk about transformational science or impact. It’s just a different term from what we used to call technology transfer 30 or 40 years ago. It was putting knowledge to work. That was the extension motto some years ago. The concept is the same; the intended impact is the same; but we do it with a different recipe, so to speak. At PSI, you have four platform directors. One is for extension and outreach. And frankly, that’s one of the things I want to advocate for PSI, and I’m trying to do that at every opportunity, because I think the ultimate success of PSI for our state relates to the impact that it has on North Carolina farmers, their families, our resources, and our future. Agriculture is so important to North Carolina’s economy, our employment and our well-being.
You’re a three-time graduate of NC State. What are the key things you learned here that contributed to your success?
The most impactful things in one sense were the relationships with professors, with other students, and with leadership. My experience in the classroom was that the professors were genuine. They cared about the students and the science, and they took their jobs seriously. You weren’t just learning information. You were building relationships and learning how to solve problems.
Can you describe a significant memory or two at NC State that you wish you could relive?
In 1967, I went to the Norm Sloan Basketball Camp. That was my first actual trip to Raleigh. We stayed at the 4-H and youth facilities over on the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. I have fond memories of that camp as a teenager, and those feelings still come back when I go to the state fair – or just going to the fairgrounds for meetings with commodity groups and other organizations over the years.
But in terms of the campus, it was the relationships I built in the Agronomy Club and Alpha Zeta. At the time, it was the service, scholarship, and leadership fraternity for agriculture. My best memories revolve around them. I made some good, close friendships – professional and otherwise. I still interact with them – and have for many years.
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.