Weeds pose the single biggest risk to global crop production, yet their study is infinitely complex. Weed management is highly regional and system-specific encompassing a variety of cropland, horticulture, turfgrass, aquatic system, and environmental concerns. To perpetuate research progress, the Weed Science Society of North Carolina (WSSNC) recently doubled its student funding to develop the next generation of weed scientists.
In 1982, the WSSNC coalesced from a group of researchers and industry advocates to advance the field of weed science and its students. The group is a public-private partnership working to understand evolving weed pressures and pursue effective management. North Carolina is one of only two remaining state-level weed societies in the nation.
Charlie Cahoon is a Crop and Soil Sciences associate professor of weed science and the WSSNC’s current vice president.
“North Carolina has a rich history in weed science, both at the university and in industry,” Cahoon said. “NC State’s weed science faculty is among the best in the nation and the large agrochemical companies in the Research Triangle Park anchor a significant presence and provide actively engaged industry colleagues.”
Supporting NC Weed Science Students
Student involvement has been a core tenet of the WSSNC since its inception, including a student representative position on the society’s governing board. Eric Jones served in the student role in 2021.
“The student representative role is very important so the board can better cater meetings for our students and, in return, learn how students benefit from the society.
Each year the society gives money for students to travel and gain new experiences and learn new techniques not possible at NC State. I had the pleasure of helping to update the student endowment award criteria broadening it from just travel expenses to now prioritizing enrichment experiences.
I am not aware of another state-level weed science society that does this much to ensure that students are successful.”
NC State Weed Science Endowment
The society also invests in student experiential and professional development opportunities.
To this end, the WSSNC created the NC State Weed Science Endowment to fund student experiences.
Alumna Sarah Meadows works at the Office of Pesticide Programs within the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I benefited from the immense support the WSSNC provided students,” Meadows said. “By connecting with pesticide users and scientists from universities, chemical companies, and government agencies, I realized my desire to make an immediate contribution to improving the quality and safety of agricultural products.”
The newly doubled endowment contribution will expand the number and breadth of student support.
“This additional funding will also allow us to fund opportunities beyond conference travel and prioritize external enrichment opportunities like visiting peer institutions or developing new skills through professional development,” said society treasurer Steve Hoyle.
Scholarship applications are accepted each year but the award amounts aren’t fixed and the scholarship parameters are quite broad. Hoyle notes that scholarship amounts are weighed with the expected student experience and that awards aren’t necessarily limited to graduate students.
At the WSSNC annual mid-March meeting, the society offers students presentation opportunities, a judged poster contest, and awards for both outstanding Ph.D. and master’s students. It’s a valuable first step for weed science students to network and gain presentation confidence close to home.
But organizers also encourage students to stretch their wings.
“Different areas have different weed species, resistance issues, and cropping systems,” Cahoon said. “Getting exposure to another part of the country – or world – is invaluable to students. It’s important for them to get outside of their comfort zone.”
As a graduate student, Cahoon himself received funding to attend the National Weed Science Meeting. He credits the opportunity to see a new part of the country and present in front of a new audience as a career enhancer.
Regional Weed Contests
Another practical opportunity for students to hone their weed science skills is at collegiate weed contest competitions. Teams of four (usually graduate) students face off in a series of written and hands-on events to test their knowledge of weed identification, diagnostics, and equipment calibration.
“Of all of the competition categories, the farmer problem event is probably the best for preparing students. They are solving a real-world (albeit simulated) problem — interacting and serving farmers, or other stakeholders, like we do in Extension every day,” Cahoon said. “These competition simulations are great preparation for field situations.”
The WSSNC frequently funds NC State’s team to compete across the country.
The society’s endowment increase is intended to increase the quality and accessibility of external experiential learning. Cahoon cites students investigating other weed science online courses, techniques and tools as examples of potential awards but also short stints at a different university or private company.
“The benefit of these enrichment events is monumental for our students,” Cahoon said. “The more people in the industry that they can be exposed to, the broader their skillset and employability.”
NC State’s Legacy in Weed Science
North Carolina’s agriculture diversity gave rise to NC State’s weed science strength. The university boasts one of the nation’s largest and most diverse weed science faculty totaling thirteen between the Departments of Crop and Soil Sciences and Horticulture and representing all major field and specialty crops.
The Wolfpack’s weed science alumni are equally strong as faculty with graduates working across the country and world working in a variety of federal and state agencies, private industry, and entrepreneurial capacities.
“Innovation in weed science is essential to support our agricultural future,” said Jeff Mullahey, head of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “Interdisciplinary studies and training from expert faculty in multiple departments prepare our weed science graduates for successful careers nationally and globally.”
The WSSNC’s annual meetings are held at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Society membership is open to anyone interested in weed science. The next meeting is Thursday, March 16, 2023.
The WSSNC endowment is always open for contribution by any donor who wants to support NC State students researching and advancing this evolving field.
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