Q&A Agriculture

With NCSU College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton

Golden LEAF works with partners across the state to support agriculture and agribusiness. North Carolina State University recently broke ground on a state-of-the-art facility that will create opportunities to grow the state’s thriving agricultural industry into a global leader. By developing new products, conducting research and educating new generations of workers for the jobs of the future, this public-private partnership will bring together the brightest minds in academia, government and industry to drive innovation in crop yields, growing seasons, agricultural and environmental sustainability, and technology. North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton recently addressed opportunities and challenges of agriculture in the 21st Century.

What do you see as some of the biggest agriscience success stories for NC farmers?

There are a lot of incredible agriscience success stories, and the common thread for all of them is North Carolina’s innovative farmers and agribusinesses. They are constantly asking “what’s next” for their operations and are visionary investors in and adopters of new technology and science – which is why we are a top 10 producer in more than 25 commodities. North Carolina’s sweet potato industry is a great example. It’s an amazing story of entrepreneurial growers working together to create new markets and sweet potato-based products in partnership with NC State – driving the research, new varieties, and production practices that keep N.C. the top producer and exporter of sweet potatoes in the nation. That’s just one of many great stories.

What are some of the current challenges facing NC farmers?

The top challenge for our farmers is profitability. Low commodity prices. Natural disasters and weather uncertainty. Access to talent. These are just a few of the factors impacting our farmers’ operations. Enhancing farmer profitability is a top priority for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and it’s why we have worked so closely with the Golden LEAF Foundation and agricultural stakeholders from across the state to launch the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI).  N.C. PSI accelerates plant science discovery, talent development and the delivery of applied solutions to increase crop yields, create new varieties and extend growing seasons to help improve farm profitability. It’s also why we have partnered with the university on our Student Access Initiative – creating new pathways to CALS for all students who want to earn a degree from NC State. And it’s working. Over the past two academic years, we have seen a dramatic increase in student acceptance rates from our most economically challenged rural communities.

What is the biggest threat facing the state’s agriculture industry?

North Carolina agriculture is in a state of change. That speaks to both our ability to keep pace with the emergence of new technology and the dramatic shifts in our population. It’s projected that by the year 2050 the average farm will generate 4.1 million data points a day. The collection and analysis of these data could help farmers make real-time, data-driven decisions on what to plant and the exact treatments needed down to the square inch. This could significantly improve farm profitability and give our farmers a competitive edge in an increasingly global market. But only if all farmers have access to reliable, affordable broadband, which many today do not. That’s also a challenge at the state’s network of 18 research stations – the proving grounds for vital NC State research and the evaluation of technology upgrades.

Another challenge is the state’s population. We have experienced a 20 percent increase in population since 2000, and we’re expecting over 1 million new residents by 2030. Most of that population is moving to our suburban and urban communities and may not fully understand the importance of agriculture to our economy and the more than 728,000 it employs. This presents a tremendous opportunity for educational outreach and NC State Extension and CALS sees this as a key part of our mission and strategy.

What role can universities play in advancing agricultural research?

NC State is proud of our land-grant mission. We exist to teach tomorrow’s leaders, conduct vital research and extend knowledge and resources that help create economic, intellectual and societal prosperity in every corner of the state. The state’s extreme diversity in climates and soils allows us to grow more than 80 crop and plant varieties – and CALS research, education, and NC State Extension has and will continue to be a key component of growing North Carolina agriculture.

What does the future of agriculture look like?

North Carolina is uniquely positioned to tackle the grand challenges of feeding, fueling and clothing a growing global population. We have forward-looking agricultural farmers and leaders, a vibrant AgTech and life sciences industry, the third most agriculturally diverse economy in the country, and incredible partnerships among our commodity organizations, our land-grant universities and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We have the courage to dream big dreams for North Carolina agriculture and the determination to make them happen. Our future is bright.

About Dean Richard Linton

Richard H. Linton is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University. Prior to this role, Linton served as Department Chair of Food Science and Technology at The Ohio State University (2011-2012), and as a faculty member of the Department of Food Science at Purdue University (1994-2011). While at Purdue University, Linton also served as the Director (and founder) of the Center for Food Safety Engineering and as the Associate Director of Agricultural Research Programs.

As dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Linton leads more than 325 faculty housed in 12 different departments, more than 2,700 undergraduate students and nearly 1,000 graduate students. Under his direction, the college has developed a new strategic plan that focuses on building people, programs and partnerships. Collaboration with industry and government is critical to the mission of the college, and Linton’s dedication to this mission is demonstrated through the Plant Sciences Initiative and the Food Processing and Manufacturing Initiative, two endeavors that have the potential to create jobs, find solutions to global challenges in agriculture and foster support for local growers.

Linton earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s in food science and a doctorate in food science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

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