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Charlie Cahoon filled some big weed shoes in North Carolina

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Charlie Cahoon grew up on a farm in Hyde County. In 2018, he succeeded Alan York as the Extension weed specialist for corn and cotton at North Carolina State University.
An hourly job with Extension specialist Alan York sparked an interest in weed science.

Like a lot of farm kids in North Carolina, Charlie Cahoon went to Raleigh to study agriculture at North Carolina State University after high school graduation. While at North Carolina State, he took classes from well-known faculty in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, and he is now a member.

Cahoon grew up on a farm near Swan Quarter (Hyde County), in the Blacklands of eastern North Carolina. Cahoon’s grandfather, Carl Cahoon, who was an Extension agent in Tyrell County for a short time, started the family farm. However, the Cahoon farming legacy did not start there. Cahoon explains that his great-great-grandfather farmed while also running a country store whereas his great-grandfather was a long-time Sherriff of Hyde County, but also farmed on the side.

Cahoon’s father, C.W., his two uncles, and his cousin, representing the sixth-generation, now work the fertile land around Swan Quarter. The farm began as a hog operation and the family soon expanded into row crops and vegetables. When Charlie was in middle school, the family got out of the hog business.

“I am very proud of my family’s history in agriculture. Farming in the Blacklands actually runs in both sides of my family. My mama’s daddy, Buddy Potter, also farmed in Hyde County, a legacy continued today by my uncle and cousin,” Cahoon says.

Upon graduation from Mattamuskeet High School in 2007, Cahoon enrolled at North Carolina State. At the time, he thought he would return home to join the family farm. But during his junior year, he happened to take an hourly job working in the weed science program for university professor and Extension Weed Specialist Alan York and his technician at the time, Rick Seagroves. That sparked an interest in research and a passion for weed science.

The rest you could say is history. Cahoon went on to get his B.S. in Agronomy-Soil Science in 2011. He continued at State and earned a Ph.D. in Crop Science with a focus on Weed Science, where Dr. York was both a mentor and teacher. After earning his Ph.D. in 2015, Cahoon moved to Painter, Va., to work as an Extension weed specialist for row crops and vegetables out of the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Leave bigger mark

Cahoon explains that he decided to pursue a career in research and Extension because it would allow him to leave a bigger mark on agriculture. He says he was motivated by York and other North Carolina State professors and he believes he got the Extension bone from his grandfather, a former Extension agent then farmer.

Come March 2018, Alan York would retire as North Carolina State’s Extension weed specialist. This provided the opportunity for Cahoon to return home where he accepted the job as assistant professor and Extension weed specialist for cotton and corn upon York’s retirement.

“I was happy to come home and really honored to replace Dr. York. It was big shoes to fill. I really respected the way Dr. York ran his program. It was very applied. York was constantly on the phone with growers. They cared about what he said because he had their best interest at heart,” Cahoon explains.

“It was very eye opening to me to see how much people relied on him. He was a great example of an Extension specialist. And that Extension component, being able to give back to the agriculture community, is really what drew me to the job,” Cahoon says.

And beyond doubt, it’s a big job. Herbicide resistance isn’t going away, and farmers are continuing to search for ways to efficiently and economically control troublesome weeds. There are also exciting new technologies on the horizon, such as harvest weed seed control and robotics that will hopefully give farmers additional tools beyond chemical control.

It’s a good time to be a weed scientist, and Cahoon says he is exactly where he wants to be. So, what does he encourage farmers to do to battle such fearsome foes as Palmer amaranth and ragweed, as well as other troublesome weeds?

“No. 1: Have a good burndown. We say it all the time, start clean. We want to have that seedbed weed free when we start the season. For pigweed and ragweed, we need a good residual program up front with multiple modes of action preferable just to keep the tools we have right now available for the long-term. We also have to do a better job with some of the cultural tactics,” Cahoon says.

Cover crops

Cahoon believes cover crops are an important weed management tool in North Carolina. Cover crops are important for soil health and conservation benefits, but farmers should also plant and manage cover crops for weed control. For farmers who have a really bad pigweed problem, Cahoon recommends a cover crop with a lot of biomass.

“Cereal rye is where you’re going to go if you have a lot of pigweed pressure. If you don’t have bad pigweed problems, and you need nitrogen, you may want to give legumes a try,” he says.

“Cover crops can have a big impact on resistant horseweed, and Palmer pigweed for sure, but when you get into the field, you have to be timely no matter what. Our research has shown if you use a residual at planting and you are timely with your postemergence herbicides, it really doesn’t matter which system you choose,” he adds.

“We talk about integrated weed management a lot. Chemicals are a component of that. Nobody is talking about completely dropping them. But, we have to be more diligent on how we use them and be careful not to over-use them,” he emphasizes.

Cahoon points out that the auxins work well in North Carolina and farmers across the state have proven to be good stewards of the technology. He said the March 15 decision by EPA to deny North Carolina’s special need labels for Engenia, XtendiMax and Tavium herbicides is disappointing.

The North Carolina special needs label would have moved the cut-off date for over-the-top application of dicamba to July 31. With this rejection, the application cut-off dates in North Carolina return to dates imposed by the federal labels for these products.

The cutoff date is now June 30 for soybeans which Cahoon says presents a challenge to farmers who grow double-crop soybeans. The cutoff date is July 30 for cotton which should not present many problems to cotton farmers. “July 30 is plenty of time for cotton.” he notes.

Cahoon says herbicide resistance is a challenge that isn’t going away. He believes North Carolina farmers are up to the task. Cover crops, improved varieties and better crop and chemistry rotations must be part of the mix.

“Our farmers do a great job. They are very passionate about their crops and take great pride in growing them. With that pride comes diligence in the fight against troublesome weeds. Most folks want their fields clean to maximize production and limit weed issues next year. Even though my job security depends on weeds, I take pride in riding our country roads and seeing field after field of clean crops,” Cahoon says.

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