Soil and water

Heitman appointed agronomy researcher 2021 | Crop and Soil Sciences


Josh Heitman, professor of soil physics and hydrology at NC State Crop and Soil Sciences, was named American Society of Agronomy Fellow in 2021. The awards are presented to members of the Society to recognize outstanding contributions to agricultural science through education, service and research.

Josh Heitman NCSUDeanna Osmond, State Professor of Soil Fertility and Watershed Management, named Heitman for the honor.

“Dr. Heitman is one of the most, if not the most productive teachers I have ever worked with. He has a comprehensive understanding of soils and a working knowledge of agriculture, having grown up on a farm,” Osmond said. “His ability to synthesize information and take it to a higher level of understanding is truly unique.”

The ASA website notes, “Fellow is the highest honor bestowed by the American Society of Agronomy. Members of the Society appoint worthy colleagues on the basis of their professional achievements and meritorious service. Less than 0.3 percent of the active and emeritus members of the Society can be elected Fellow.

An affinity for the puzzles of nature

As the soil is omnipresent for humanity, the field of research is just as diverse. Heitman’s research covers multiple applications: improving soil productivity and resilience in staple and alternative crops; improving soil functions such as water infiltration for stormwater management in urban or disturbed soils; and fundamental research on the hydraulic, thermal and electrical properties of the soil.

“Soil is made up of so many individual particles. They’re like puzzle pieces but don’t necessarily fit together in an exact shape. Moreover, they can be aggregated in unlimited combinations and do not remain stable, ”Heitman said. “Our lab is working to understand the structure of soil and how we can modify and measure the dynamic ways in which water can flow through it.”

a close up of soil particles
Photo courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture

Entering and exiting the laboratory

Professor Josh Heitman with students
Heitman supervises the students of the REU program

While he appreciates the breadth of laboratory research, Heitman’s passion stems from teaching and sharing inspiration with his students. He has been an advisor to 24 graduate students and seven postdoctoral researchers over the past 15 years.

In addition to teaching semester-long undergraduate and graduate soil courses, Heitman also runs a program funded by the National Science Foundation. Research experience for undergraduates NC state program.

“There are many REU sites for biology and engineering, but to my knowledge, ours is the only soil-focused program in the country,” Heitman said. “This 10-week event attracts students from across the country (usually with no training in agriculture). Their zeal for fieldwork is contagious. It’s amazing how quickly and enthusiastically they learn.

the pupils dig in the ground on a ground.
Heitman’s REU group visits soil sites across North Carolina during the program.

Soil physics is relevant in many fields. Heitman therefore frequently contributes to graduate committees in civil engineering, biological and agricultural engineering, horticulture, natural resources, etc. His expertise makes him a valuable resource for many groups interested in understanding the cycle of soil disturbance and sedimentation on gas exchange, water transfer and nutrient cycling in agricultural and urban systems.

Currently, Heitman also serves as collaborator and founding member news from the university Climate adaptation through agriculture and soil management (CASM) cohort.

“There has been a lot of coverage on the role of agricultural soil management in climate change mitigation, but only a small portion of this work is directly relevant to conditions in North Carolina and the Southeast,” Heitman said. “I look forward to seeing this broad interest addressed more directly in our unique conditions and ultimately put into practice through the work of CASM. ”

A man in a blue shirt is chatting with colleagues at a meeting

Heitman accepted the Fellow award at the American Society of Agronomy annual meeting in November. Although he was surprised and humbled by the recognition, the university found it very appropriate and well deserved.

“Dr. Heitman is a nationally and internationally recognized leader and expert in soil physics,” said Jeff Mullahey, department head of the North Carolina State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “He is an exceptionally productive faculty member in the department, as evidenced by his exemplary level of scholarship in research and teaching, and his outstanding service record within our department.”

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NC state logo in the soil profile

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