Gathering Energy: New Faculty Reflect the Changing Needs of Agriculture

farmers shaking hands in a field at sunset

“The dramatic interplay of agriculture and the environment is changing farming practices and necessitates that we adapt as well,” said Jeff Mullahey, North Carolina State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences’ head. 

“Climate adaptation and precision technology are the tradewinds shaping our agricultural future. To serve North Carolina’s current farmers and develop the next generation, our programs must be immersed in emerging fields. We are delighted to introduce a faculty cohort that fortifies our department’s position as an ally in climate-smart agriculture.”

Four New Faculty Join Crop and Soil Sciences

In response to these dynamic demands, our department recently welcomed four new faculty to expand our teaching, research, and Extension capabilities. 

We caught up with this bright new group to learn about their backgrounds and what impact their work

Amanda Cardoso, Assistant Professor of Crop Physiology

Dr. Amanda CardosoWelcome to NC State! What was your previous position before joining the Wolfpack?

I was a visiting professor at the Universidade Federal de Alfenas, Brazil, working in plant physiology and evolution, global climate change, photosynthesis, and plant stress physiology.

Your new position is 80% research-based, what is the focus of your work?

My studies target the functioning of plants – including woody and herbaceous crops – during and after challenging climate conditions, such as drought, waterlogging and elevated temperatures. I aim to better understand the physiological mechanisms in crop plants to improve field performance in crop yield and quality, especially focusing on climate change.

These studies have major implications to improve cultivated plant productivity and the prediction of ecosystem responses to climate change. It’s critical not only for North Carolina agriculture but for the whole world. And while I’m primarily research-focused, I’ll also teach a graduate-level class in plant physiology.

What energizes you about this position at NC State?

NC State offers an incredible amount of resources, including space, equipment, and a stellar group of faculty with whom to collaborate. These are key components allowing early-career professors to establish a successful research program. 

The combination of the campus phytotron, multiple field sites for all the important commodity crops, and the fantastic group of professors in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences is what excites me the most. 

Joe Gage, Assistant Professor of Crop Genomics

Dr. Joe GageWelcome aboard! Tell us about your previous work before joining NC State.

I was a National Science Foundation ​​Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. While there, I studied ways in which genome sequence influences the degree to which a plant’s genes are turned on or off. I was also involved in ideating a recent USDA-NIFA grant to create an open-source digital ecosystem to integrate agricultural data streams. 

I will continue to advise that project on analyzing ground rover data to understand how plants canopies develop through the season, as well as how that development may change in different environments. We may gather data here at NC State that will complement Cornell’s data, which can add to our understanding of how different environments alter crop health and growth.

Your position is also research-based. Tell us about your inquiries.

Global weather patterns are changing; varieties that used to perform well in NC are not guaranteed to continue doing so! In order to breed crops that will yield well in the future, breeders need tools to help them decide which varieties will perform best in a given location, which is difficult when weather patterns are changing quickly. 

Breeding crops in the face of climate change is a bit like trying to predict the future – some aspects like rising temperatures are certain, but others, such as frequency and intensity of rain, are not. I am trying to expand our understanding of how crops respond to different environments in order to help breeders develop resilient varieties that will continue to yield well, feeding us and providing reliable income for farmers.

Your office will be in the new Plant Sciences Building. How will that impact your work?

At the Plant Sciences Building, I will be in close proximity to other researchers who are doing both fundamental and applied science which is a huge advantage. Additionally, the network of NC Agriculture Research Service research stations provides a valuable resource with many environments in which crops can be grown and evaluated.

NC State has an impressive number of applied breeding programs that are producing economically important varieties. My previous work has primarily been done in maize (corn), and I’m excited to expand my research to other crops. 

Hui Li, Assistant Professor of Soil Chemistry

Dr. Hui LiWelcome to the Pack! Tell us about your prior work.

Before coming to NC State I was a postdoctoral research associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, conducting research on the role of manganese in regulating soil carbon stock.

You have a dual research and teaching appointment. What is the focus of your program? 

The stability of carbon in the soil, which is the largest and most dynamic terrestrial carbon pool, has a big impact on the global climate. Climate change is an essential concern in agriculture, which is highly dependent on weather variables. In addition to climate mitigation, increasing soil carbon stock (a primary energy source) is also beneficial for farmers to increase crop yield. 

My studies will improve our understanding of the transport and fate of soil organic matter under various environmental conditions. Areas of focus will include increasing soil carbon sequestration, improving water quality, enhancing plant nutrient use and fertilizer efficiency, and strategies to manage non-point source contaminated issues to mitigate pollution. 

In addition to my research, I will also teach a graduate-level course on soil chemistry. 

How will this new position expand your impact in this field?

NC State has a unique combination of great peer scientists, diverse field research sites, and various soil types to study. The crop and soil sciences department has a great faculty team working on many interrelated sciences. 

I’m looking forward to numerous collaboration opportunities that will help me establish and advance my research as well as educate our next generation of soil experts.

Ekrem Ozlu, Assistant Professor of Soil Management

Dr. Ekrem OzluWelcome to Crop and Soil Sciences! What drew you to this position at NC State?

I grew up on my grandparents’ farm in the Cihanbeyli Province in Turkey where the farm was my playground and muse. Agriculture research and extension was my childhood dream so I devoted my education to improvement through soil physics. I am honored to join NC State’s Extension family.

I was most recently a postdoctoral research associate at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Center, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University. There I worked to identify and predict nitrous oxide fluxes using soil and environmental variables. 

Your position is located at the Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth. Tell us about the work you’ll be doing.

There is an increasing need for research and extension programs to develop site-specific practices to better manage tillage applications and cropping systems. In a world of proliferating technology, developing spatial and temporal data footprints on carbon management, soil health, and saltwater impacts are great opportunities for higher farming profits.

My focus is on soil management, including tillage, carbon cycling, saltwater intrusion, and geographic information systems. I want to understand how to improve the dynamic soil system to be more productive while keeping its static body healthy. And most importantly, communicate our research findings to farmers and agents in the field.

My research and Extension work will support the saltwater intrusion, carbon stability and greenhouse gas emission research investigations of the Climate Adaptation through Agriculture and Soil Management (CASM) group.

Growing A Shared Future

Crop and Soil Sciences’ faculty impact students, businesses, and citizens everywhere crops grow. Follow how our innovations affect agriculture and environmental science by joining our weekly newsfeed.

If you are a student interested in crop or soil science, investigate our undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Then join us for a guided email tour of our department and university.  

Improving NC’s agricultural and environmental foundation from the ground up is just part of how we are growing the future. 

tractor mowing a field