Playing in the dirt: A career well-spent

by | Jan 12, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Don Nicholson, Regional Agronomist for Region 7, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!

Don Nicholson is a Regional Agronomist for Region 7, which includes Harnett, Johnston, Wayne and Wake Counties. An agronomist examines and manages the science of soil and crop production. Although he never imagined that his professional career would involve playing in the dirt, he would have it no other way. “I grew up on a traditional tobacco farm in Lee County,” he said, “and throughout my life I kept being drawn back to the agriculture industry. Today, there is nothing I would rather be associated with.”

For over 16 years, Don has been working as a regional agronomist at the NCDA&CS, interacting with and aiding farmers across the state. He not only helps farmers, but also other agriculture industry producers to make decisions based on plant nutrition in crops and other plants. “Livestock is a big portion of N.C. agriculture, so we aid growers in utilizing the wastes generated by livestock operations in ways that are beneficial to crop growth and environmentally responsible,” he said. “Additionally, since plant parasitic nematodes can hinder the uptake of water and nutrients, we aid growers in identifying problem areas and help them come up with strategies to make as profitable of a crop as possible.”

Don partners with other field services, such as Soil, Plant & Waste Solutions and the nematode laboratory to ensure farmers have all the resources they need to make their operation successful. “N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler tasked us many years ago to ‘help our farmers,’” he said, “and everything that we do as Regional Agronomists works toward that goal. These items mentioned above are simply the tip of the iceberg.”

Although he loves many aspects of his job, Don takes the most pride in building relationships with farmers across the state. He says many of these farmers have become like a second family to him through the years. “The past couple of decades have been a time of tremendous change in N.C. agriculture, with newer crops moving into the field,” he said, “helping growers transition into these new crops and watching them be successful in those endeavors has been very gratifying over the years. It is a blessing to count many of them as friends and family.”

Don appreciates the trust and confidence that farmers have placed in him and uses that as motivation every day to continue working hard for the industry.

He has also taken a fascination in watching the agriculture industry grow and evolve through the years. “For example, historically, cash crops like sweet potatoes and peanuts have been grown in the more traditional areas of our state,” he said, “but in recent years they have started to expand into non-traditional areas and learning how to grow those crops there has been amazing.”

Those who know Don would describe him as an open book who has no problem helping others, including young people in the industry, grow in their passions. “I had a lot of people who helped guide and support me starting out in this career when I felt like a little fish in a big pond,” he said, “now that I am one of the oldest rats in the barn, I hope to do the same for those coming up behind me and further the future of our state’s agriculture industry.” Thank you, Don, for all your hard work!