PSI Profile: Chris Reberg-Horton, Director of the Platform for Resilient Farming Systems
For Chris Reberg-Horton, the success of the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative depends on the faculty. As the first platform director of the Resilient Farming Systems Initiative, his goal is to provide logistical support to help fellow teachers make the connections they need to solve big problems in agriculture.
Reberg-Horton, professor of organic cropping systems in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at North Carolina State University, helped develop the initiative as part of the sub-working group on food systems, environmental sustainability and resilience. His career has been helping agriculture become resilient in the face of huge changes.
Reberg-Horton is known for his work with a national research network, called Sustainable precision agriculture, focused on using advanced low-cost technology and machine learning to improve sustainable farming practices.
He is deputy director of collaborative research for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, a partnership between NC State, North Carolina A&T State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In 2019, he received a $ 10 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture to support this research.
The pressing need of this generation is to strengthen its resilience to climate change and to make the most of technological innovation.
Reberg-Horton is from Fairview, a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. He holds an undergraduate degree in environmental science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; a master’s degree in agronomy from the University of California, Davis; and a doctorate in horticultural science from the State of North Carolina.
He did extension work in California and North Carolina and was on the faculty at the University of Maine before returning to North Carolina State in 2006 to serve in the Department of Crop Science and of soils.
He recently shared his thoughts on NC State, the plant science initiative, and his goals as director of the platform.
How do you see the position of Platform Director for Resilient Farming Systems?
With climate change already having an impact on farms and the increasing pace of technological changes such as artificial intelligence and robotics becoming realities in agriculture, I believe the times we live in will be no less revolutionary. than the green revolution or the industrial revolution. The compelling need of this generation is to strengthen their resilience to climate change and make the most of the incredible technological innovation that is occurring. This is the goal of PSI’s Resilient Farming Systems Platform.
As a platform leader, I see my role as a facilitator. It is the teachers who will lead to the success of the initiative. Platform Managers are there to support their work by helping them connect with others and with the resources they need to be successful. Saying “we want the faculty to be interdisciplinary, but you are alone” is not enough. With PSI, what we’re saying is, “We’re here to help. “
What are your goals for the job?
Simple metrics are the ones I love, and if I had one simple metric to measure success in this position, it would be that my colleagues in agriculture would know it personally and work effectively with faculty from other colleges on campus to address the challenges of agriculture.
If you ask people, “How many people in other colleges do you know you can call on the phone and say, ‘There’s a grant coming in. often as we would like. And that’s what PSI is here to solve.
Real stars are scattered all over our campus, and expertise can be hidden in unexpected places. I’ll give you an example: I do a lot with small devices and the Internet of Things, and thanks to PSI, I found someone with incredible experience at the College of Textiles. It never occurred to me to even look there.
What do you love about being at NC State?
At NC State, our biggest advantage is that we are not territorial. When you pick up the phone and cold call someone to see if they’re interested in sharing their expertise, it tends to go very well. I have met all of these new people over the past two years, and they have been warm and receptive. Interdisciplinarity works better in our culture here than on other campuses, and this atmosphere also allows PSI to work here.
What are the major challenges facing agriculture?
I mentioned the ability to adapt to a changing climate and a changing technological world being number one. Another challenge is changing what consumers expect from agriculture. I think the design of the land grant system for a very long time has been that people just want food. But what we see now is that it’s more complicated. People are asking for a lot more. They ask for sustainability. They want to see agriculture produce food, but they also want it to serve environmental purposes at the same time.
Lots of people in the public and private sectors are figuring out how to do this, and NC State can play a huge role. Big data will be needed. It will have to be tracked throughout the supply chain if we are to make environmental claims on farming systems. We will have to improve the plants. And we’ll have to find the right mix of crops to produce our food in the most environmentally friendly way. Meeting this challenge will take all PSI platforms.
Do you have a favorite plant?
As a mountain dweller, I must say that it is the mountain laurel. I miss the mountain laurels here. My wife is a landscaper and her company is called Kalmia Landscape Design, after the scientific name for mountain laurel.
Is there anything else you wanted to share?
There is no initiative that is not faculty led, and therefore the success or failure of the Plant Science Initiative will depend on the faculty. I want to encourage everyone who is interested to get involved and help take the initiative. It sounds a bit like Kennedy’s speech: don’t ask what it is; come help make it what it will be.