Roberson named Suggs first Distinguished Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering

June 7, 2021 | Laura Riddle

Professor and extension specialist Gary Roberson has been named the Charles W. Suggs Distinguished First Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. The appointment was established through an endowment from Professor Emeritus Charlie Suggs and his wife, Jane. Their contribution, made in 2018, created the first appointed chair in the department’s more than 70-year history.

Suggs, one of the first students to graduate as an organic and agricultural engineer in 1949, would complete his master’s degree in 1955 and then become the department’s first doctorate. graduated in 1959. He worked for Dearborn Motors, International Harvester and the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station before joining BAE, where he taught for 39 years and retired as Professor Emeritus.

What makes Roberson’s distinction paramount is the education he received as a BAE student.

As an undergraduate researcher he had the opportunity to work with Suggs in the lab and in the field. “[Suggs] always wanted to make sure everyone around him knew what was going on, ”recalls Roberson. “He’s always been interested in people’s success.

Roberson graduated in Biological and Agricultural Engineering in 1978 and completed his Masters in 1980. Seeking a change, he accepted a position as Product Analysis Manager for Long Manufacturing NC until 1983, when which he was invited again to lecture on machines for BAE while working on his doctorate.

Developing precision agriculture in North Carolina

“The first sentences used to describe precision farming,” Roberson simplifies, “were foot farming and site-specific management”. Precision agriculture uses a combination of information technology and crop management to make calculated decisions that allow farmers to optimize resources and increase crop production.

Dr. Roberson owns the Quantix Aerovironment inside the Suggs Lab.

As a pioneer of precision agriculture and the only precision agriculture faculty member in Biological and Agricultural Engineering for many years, Roberson has been integral to its growth in North Carolina. “Part of my job is to get the information into the hands of the farmers,” he explains. ” How it works ? What technologies can be used to our advantage? ”

Through the Distinguished Chair, Roberson aims to establish a base of technologies and resources on which the department can continue to draw. Its focus is specifically on the areas of application technology and automation equipment, as the machines replace manual labor and allow farmers to operate around the clock.

Roberson notes that major tractor manufacturers are already developing driverless tractors that plant, spray and harvest without even an operator setting foot in the field, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) autonomously fly over fields assessing the field. crop development over entire seasons.

Aerovironment Quantix images showing the mosaic and vegetative index of cotton growth at Cherry Research Station.

Last year, he used the Aerovironment Quantix, one of the department’s drones, to monitor cotton production at the Cherry Research Station in Goldsboro, North Carolina. By inserting survey points in the soil to create a field boundary, the UAV took photos of the field using the exact same measurements to develop a series of maps that show which areas of the field produced the most cotton and which who were not. This process, called yield mapping, allows farmers to manage farm inputs and maximize income.

“The ultimate goal is for us to produce profit cards for the farmer,” says Roberson, “show them where they make money and where they don’t”.

North Carolina farmers produce more than 90 different products, which ranks the state among the best states in the country for agricultural diversity. “If we can start to see more and more ways to apply precision farming technologies to a wider range of crops, then we hope we can improve profitability,” says Roberson.

Develop biological and agricultural engineering

Ron Heiniger, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, introduced Roberson to precision agriculture in the mid-1990s. From there, Roberson researched and laid the foundation for the program. BAE.

“I was surrounded by very good colleagues, people who were always ready to help,” he says. “We have great support from our research stations across the state and it has been a huge difference.”

Garey Fox, professor and department head, notes that the Suggs Distinguished Professor Fellowship will help continue to develop the department’s research, teaching and extension programming in machine systems and precision agriculture. “The integration of technology into agriculture remains one of the great future challenges of engineering, as we increase the food, fiber and energy needed by a growing population. The Suggs’ Professorship helps establish NC State as one of the leaders in the fields of engineering and engineering technology.

The Charles W. Suggs Distinguished Professor Chair recognizes Roberson’s 38-year career in the department and his passion for integrated teaching, extension, and his research program in precision agriculture.

“There is no greater honor I could have than having Charles Sugg’s name in my professional title,” Roberson replies. “I consider this to be the pinnacle of my career.

Amalia H. Mercado