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On The Farm with Joseph Stuckey: ‘Unpretty’ Science, Big Impact

Joseph Stuckey sitting on the back of a red truck in a field
Joseph Stuckey at a composting workshop

This is our second summer staff spotlight and we were lucky to catch up with Joseph Stuckey. While Stuckey is often tucked away around a bend in Chi Road off of Lake Wheeler Road (that’s where the Animal & Poultry Waste Management Center Processing Facility is) we spoke with him just before he spent some time away on his boat.

But what is the Waste Processing Facility all about? Waste may be in the name, but there’s a lot more to it than ‘taking out the trash’. Read all about it as Stuckey explains his work – including how he collaborates around NC State – and shares some wisdom.

What is your role at NC State?

I am the Research Operations Manager for the Animal & Poultry Waste Processing Facility. I manage the facility’s mortality composting program, research laboratory and metal fabrication/repair shop. The Waste Processing facility is housed under the Prestage Department of Poultry Science and is located off of Chi Road on the Lake Wheeler research farms.

Tell us about your work.

The Waste Processing Facility (WPF) operates as a service center to provide support for state, federal and private groups with research needs in the field(s) of agricultural/animal waste management and/or agricultural value-added products.

aerial image of the Waste Processing Facility
The Animal & Poultry Waste Management Center Processing Facility

The WPF has several technologies on-site including multiple hammer mills, bio-char and torrifaction units, batch- and continuous-feed gasifiers, meat grinders and mixers, as well as extrusion and drying units. These technologies allow us to offer a wide range of support.

I ensure that the facility is properly equipped with appropriate resources needed and meets current safety requirements to best serve as a research resource. I also provide expertise in the fields of agricultural waste material handling and mortality composting.

The WPF accepts waste feed, litter, eggs and mortalities from Lake Wheeler research units for on-site composting. In addition to research and composting we also have secondary tasks such as grounds and facility maintenance, equipment maintenance and implementing pest management plans.

In the event of animal mass mortality due to natural disasters or disease I also work with NCDA and USDA in the field as a Subject Matter Expert helping to address each farm’s unique situation and figuring out the best way to handle that farm’s livestock loss.

What’s the most important thing for people to know about the work you do?

That we do our best to offer services and resources to support the NC State teaching units among others with conducting research to improve industry. We also provide a great service to our teaching units by recycling the majority of their by-products into nutrient-rich compost!

How did you get into your current position?

I first started working at the Waste Processing Facility in 2007 as an undergraduate. I was working for Mark Rice at the time on several Swine Lagoon projects that involved the WPF. I loved what the WPF had to offer. All the different research projects happening at once and the “getting your hands dirty” aspect really attracted me.

I graduated from [NC State’s] department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering in 2009. I was hired as a Research Technician at the WPF shortly after. I worked as a Research Technician until 2018, which is when I was hired as the Research Operations Manager. I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to manage the WPF.

Are you doing anything new in the last year? Is there anything you do now that you never would have seen yourself doing when you started your job?

Every year has been something new out here and I constantly find myself involved in things I never imagined!

I will say that the research out here has gone full circle. What I mean is when I first started working at the WPF the research was primarily animal-waste-related. Waste Management is not a pretty science; sometimes it is a difficult science to secure funding for.

During our last difficult period we worked a lot with poultry litter and bio-char production, bio-diesel production, bio-mass harvesting, processing and drying as well as some solar-to-thermal research. This involved collaborating with the College of Natural Resources and the College of Engineering.

Now, things have come back full circle. The last few years have come back to animal waste, primarily dealing with alternative uses for agricultural by-products and swine lagoon sludge.

People often think of faculty and students when they think of universities. What should people know about staff positions in universities?

Staff play a large and important role in the mechanics that make up university systems as a whole. University staff are often heavily involved where “the rubber meets the road,” so to speak, involving both research and necessary daily operational duties.

My experience as a staff member has been a very fulfilling one. Oddly enough, I enjoy the structure and routine that is involved with keeping a facility compliant concerning maintenance, inventories and safety protocols.

The role and job duties that I carry as a staff member are depended on for not only carrying out and supporting the research needs of faculty, but also preparing students for life after college.

Any interesting or unusual hobbies outside work?

Joseph stucky and his wife hold their 22-month-old son
Joseph with his wife and son at the beach

I have a curious mind which usually leads to taking things apart to understand how they work. Sometimes I even put those things back together!

I do love working on and modifying automobiles, but I don’t think that is too unusual for someone who grew up on a farm. I like finding and rebuilding 1940s through 1970s Coleman gas lanterns. That’s pretty unusual, right?!

I will say that my hobbies are changing: I have a 22-month-old boy and my wife and I are expecting our second boy in mid-October. Ask me about my hobbies again in 5 years.

Wisdom, advice or final thoughts?

My high school FFA Advisor and teacher, Chris Stewart, always told us to “pay it forward”. That is something I can always hear him say. I also understand the significance of it the older I get.

I do have a few random quotes that I tell myself all along to keep things in perspective. I’ll share a few of those:

  • “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein
  • “When you can’t see the angles no more, you’re in trouble, baby.  You’re in trouble.” – Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino)
  • “You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen