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CALS Weekly

Professor’s Legacy to Continue Through Endowed Professorship

The new Ronnie W. Heiniger Distinguished Chair in Corn Extension Agronomy recognizes the state’s sole corn Extension specialist.

ron heininger speaks at a podium

Hopeful for increased crop yields and advancement of the state’s agricultural economy, the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina and NC State University are equally committed to the agronomy industry’s future. 

This partnership is united through the research of Ronnie Heiniger, an NC State professor of corn production and management and the state’s sole corn Extension specialist since 1994. And the new Ronnie W. Heiniger Distinguished Chair in Corn Extension Agronomy in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences will continue Heiniger’s research and Extension efforts following his retirement in 2025.

“[Dr. Heiniger] really created that position from whole cloth,” says Rhonda Garrison, executive director of the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina. “We thought an endowment would be the best way to ensure that that position was filled in perpetuity by someone that would carry his vision forward.”

Throughout his career, Heiniger has performed field trials and farm visits to educate North Carolina growers and businesses on the latest industry innovations to increase corn yields. He was a member of the first USDA-funded international think tank on site-specific agriculture in 1995, and his applied research programs in precision agriculture and remote sensing have garnered national recognition.

Additionally, he was at the forefront of genetic research on stress tolerance and says that the think tank was the first group to use GPS for farming needs, both of which positively impacted the state’s corn production.

“When I went back to school and came to North Carolina, my goal was to make a difference to farmers – to try to give them some peace of mind of what they were doing,” Heiniger says. “Whatever I did, I wanted to find a way to make those folks more successful.” 

As the second largest row crop in the state, and an essential component of North Carolina’s $103.2 billion agribusiness impact, corn not only fuels the livestock and equine industries but is present in many everyday items, from oils and cosmetics to paper products and building materials. Although production is steadily increasing, the state’s overall corn yield has not kept pace with the demands of the thriving animal agriculture industry.

“We need to continue the momentum of supplying corn to hogs and poultry because North Carolina is a grain-deficit state,” Garrison says. “We only grow about a third of our animal [agriculture] needs, and the rest is either trucked in or railed in. We don’t want to give more of the business away than we have to with corn yields not being what they should be.”

a group of men holding a large ceremonial check from the corn growers association
The Corn Growers Association of North Carolina presented an initial pledge for the new endowed professorship during an event last year.

To combat this, the endowment was established through an initial pledge from the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina, and, now, NC State hopes to grow the endowment through private support to fully fund the corn Extension program and agronomy research.

“The Ronnie W. Heiniger Distinguished Chair in Corn Extension Agronomy will allow NC State to recruit, retain and support the best and brightest faculty, staff and students working to advance corn production,” says Garey Fox, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Support to further grow the endowment amplifies and expands the impact of the endowment on not only the corn industry but all of North Carolina agriculture.”

Heiniger has remained committed to the needs of North Carolina growers despite challenges throughout his career, such as droughts in 2012 and the shift from small-scale to large-scale farm operations. Now, he’s hopeful for future generations and the role Extension can play in helping them, too.

“We need new, younger people with new ideas,” Heiniger says. “Somebody with fire and a spirit of inventiveness that will invent the new precision agriculture – invent the new way to plant corn without water or nitrogen. New ideas, that’s what’s so valuable, and that’s what this endowment in my estimation is really all about. You’re funding the next round of new ideas.”

To contribute to the Ronnie W. Heiniger Distinguished Chair in Corn Extension Agronomy, visit