Charlie Cahoon is right where we want him to be, right back here where he belongs. Crop and Soil Sciences’ new assistant professor and extension weed specialist for corn and cotton sees his new move as simply coming home.
Tell us about your years as a student at NC State.
I earned my undergrad degree in Agronomy -Soil Science, right here in the department. I got my Ph.D. here as well, in Crop Science with a focus on weed science, under the direction of Drs. Alan York and David Jordan. Following graduation, I was hired by Virginia Tech, as an extension weed specialist for row crops and vegetables. Overall, NC State prepared me well for my career and hope that I cannot provide that same level of training to students in the future.
Why did you come to work here at Crop and Soil Sciences?
It’s a great department to be a part of. I was educated in the department, so I had the inside track on how strong the programs were that make up Crop and Soil Sciences. And it was coming home. That was a big driving factor. I’m from North Carolina, my wife is from North Carolina, and both of our families are here. Also, I’m very passionate about the growers of this state, and what better way to serve them, than as their extension weed specialist for corn and cotton?
What does it feel like to be working with your former professors?
It’s taken a little bit of getting used to. I had great respect for them while earning my degrees and that respect grew even more after joining the faculty at Virginia Tech. There is a lot more to educating graduate students than what is on the surface and it took having graduate students of my own to fully appreciate that. I’m honored to be a part of the weed science group here. It’s a great group and I think we’re doing something special.
The faculty have done a great job welcoming me to the department. Fresh on the job, Drs. Chris Reberg-Horton, Keith Edmisten, and Guy Collins invited me to collaborate on a crimson clover cover crop project. It has also been great to meet some of the new faculty. Ramon Leon and I have grabbed lunch a couple of times. Alex Woodley, the new sustainable soil fertility specialist, and I had orientation together.
What do you see as your greatest challenge?
Herbicide-resistant weeds are definitely the biggest challenge. They’ve been driving our discipline for a while now. Here in North Carolina, our growers face herbicide-resistant Palmer amaranth, common ragweed, horseweed, and Italian ryegrass to name a few. Weed management moving forward has to focus on diversity, not just using herbicides. Cultural tactics, like cover crops, improved varieties, and better crop rotations have to be a part of the solution.
What stands out about Crop and Soil Sciences students?
I will be teaching the undergraduate weed science course come fall, so I have yet to experience the role as instructor yet. From my experience here as a student, the best qualities of our undergraduates are their passion for agriculture and work ethic. I think the kids here in the department just seem to have a little more drive. A lot of them still come from farming backgrounds, so that work ethic has not been lost, and then the students who don’t have an agricultural background really provide a diverse outlook, a different perspective on things that maybe those students that grew up on a farm don’t have. A lot of folks nowadays do not know where their food comes from. I think it’s going to take folks that did not grow up on a farm that happen to have an interest in agriculture to bridge the gap between those that grow our food and the rest of us who enjoy three square meals a day.
An experience that changed your life?
I had originally planned to return home [after graduating] and join the family farm. My junior year I just happened to stumble into an hourly job in weed science under Dr. Alan York. I learned a great deal that summer from Dr. York and his top-notch technician at the time, Rick Seagroves. And that opportunity turned into a Ph.D.! It was something that was not even on my radar. I had no idea about graduate school but I really enjoyed the research, and found that I could leave a bigger mark on agriculture by becoming an extension specialist and serving the growers, versus going home and farming myself. I think I got that extension bone from my grandfather, Carl Cahoon, who was an extension agent in Tyrell County before starting the family farm. I think he would be proud.
What do you see as your goal?
My goal is to provide our corn and cotton growers with innovative and sustainable weed management solutions to the problems they face. I also want be the boots-on-the-ground that communicates to the growers all the great things that the NC State Weed Science group is doing here.
– Article by Kaki Carl