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Student Spotlight: Aspiring Plant Doctor Josh Henry

Student in NC State Conservatory (greenhouse)
Josh Henry developed his passion for plants during elementary school. Now he's an NC State Ph.D. student in horticultural science

Growing up  in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, Josh Henry’s elementary school required students to get involved in agriculture.

From that program onwards, Henry was fascinated. For his undergraduate studies, he attended the Ohio State University, earning a degree in sustainable plant systems with a specialization in horticulture.

Now, Henry has settled at NC State, where he obtained his master’s and is working toward a Ph.D. in horticulture and crop science.

How did you become interested in horticulture?

I went to the only school that I know of in the Cleveland school system where the land was donated by a farmer. And the farmer, as part of donating the land to the school system, said that half the land could be used for the school itself, and the other half of the land had to be used for teaching the students about agriculture. And so that has been going on for nearly 100 years.

When you’re in the fourth grade, they take you out and they teach you about gardening and plants and things like that. That’s where I got my start. It was taught by the Ohio State University Extension Master Gardeners. And then I continued to volunteer with them up until college.

Tell us about the work that you’re doing now in the field.

I’m half in horticulture, half in crop science. I’m working with drones, trying to diagnose nutrient deficiencies in tobacco fields. So we’re using hyperspectral sensors to gather reflectance data from the plants. We’re inducing different nutrient deficiencies and trying to get the sensors to pick up the symptoms that we’re seeing in the field. And then we’re going to do some statistical analysis … to tell between all of the different deficiencies.

What do you plan on doing after you graduate?

My interest for the past several has been going into a research and extension position. I really like working with plant research, and also I’m getting more into the precision ag and remote sensing aspects. So I like the idea of doing research, but I also like the idea of extension.

Extension is what got me into this field in the first place, because of the Master Gardeners. And it’s something I’m really passionate about, working with growers and farmers to help them with their problems. I feel like helping growers with their problems leads to better research ideas, so I definitely would like to have a position that uses both … research and extension components.

Tell us about the outstanding poster award you recently received.

I presented … at an international conference held in Portland on horticultural substrates. And an important part of horticultural substrates is plant nutrition. The poster that I presented was on nutrient deficiencies of red lettuce.

What makes that interesting is that, compared to other plants, red leaf lettuce has a different leaf color than most other plants, so symptoms of nutrient deficiencies look very different than they would on a green-leafed plant. There’s been plenty of work done on lettuce nutrient deficiencies before, but the red leaf coloration was new.

You talked about your passion for extension. How do you want to contribute to extension?

Hopefully I’d be staying in agriculture, horticulture of some sort. I really like taking days to go out and visit growers, to walk their fields, go through their greenhouses, see what they’ve got going on and help diagnose their problems – to ask them, “What are some problems you’re seeing right now? How can I help?” Basically … by being a plant doctor, going around and seeing what the ailments are and trying to help them.

What have you learned at NC State that you will take with you once you graduate?

I’ve learned a lot about just how academia works from a graduate standpoint. … One thing I really like about NC State is the size of the school. Ohio State, the main campus is twice as large as NC State’s main campus, as far as student population is concerned. So that was just way too big. And then the two-year ag college I went to, we only had 700 students. So NC State is a really nice middle of the line. … Here at NC State, I feel like I’m a part of the clubs and the different communities within the College of Ag, and also branching into some of the statistical groups. I’ve been able to mesh here very well.

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