A bug’s eye view in protecting N.C. plants

by | May 25, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Joy Goforth, Plant Pest Administrator with our Plant Industry Division, 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!

A love of agriculture isn’t always immediate, sometimes it has to grow on you. At least that was the case for Plant Pest Administrator of our Plant Industry Division, Joy Goforth.

At the age of 12 years old, Joy’s family started a landscaping business in Forsyth County, which meant that Joy’s summer vacation quickly turned from fun play dates with friends to hot, sweaty afternoons helping with the business. “Although I wasn’t the most eager volunteer, something about my time learning the value of a hard days work, having my hands in the soil and seeing the finished product of a well-planned landscape must have ignited a spark in me,” Joy said, “because despite constantly telling my parents that I would never, ever do this for a living, somehow I ended up having many jobs in the green industry and loving every single one.”

After falling in love with horticulture, Joy went on to pursue a degree in Agriculture Education at N.C. State University and learned all about different aspects of the industry, including Poultry Science, Forestry and Agricultural Engineering. “I found every aspect of agriculture fascinating, much to my surprise,” she said, “and the more I learned, the more passionate I became about a career that centers around agriculture.” She even acquired hands on experience with various divisions of the agriculture industry at N.C. State, including working as a technician for a group associated with the Department of Forestry where she oversaw the exportation of seeds for an international seed cooperative. “Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning something invaluable each step of the way that would fuel my career with the NCDA&CS,” she said.

In 2003, the position of Plant Pest Specialist for the Plant Industry Division became available and Joy knew immediately that it was her dream job. In her role, she has a variety of opportunities, including educating the public and producers on the nature of invasive pests, why they are so problematic and how they can do their part to keep them out of North Carolina. Four years ago, she transitioned to Plant Pest Administrator where her opportunities and responsibilities have grown along with her passion and love for the industry.

A typical day for Joy consists of managing the insect, plant disease and weed regulatory programs as well as overseeing the Plant Conservation and Biocontrol programs. “My job includes the more administrative type tasks such as budgeting, reporting and human resources, but more importantly, I am required to know what agricultural pests are the greater risk to N.C. and implement or oversee programs that keep them from establishing in our state,” Joy said.

When she first started as administrator, the Spotted Lantern Fly was just on the horizon. “With no natural predators and egg masses that can literally move on any flat surface, this pest has posed a huge challenge to North Carolina and other states across the U.S.,” she said. Joy and the team of Plant Industry Entomologists have created a variety of outreach materials to help educate the public on this species and implement the “see it…snap it…report it” response. “Early detection and rapid response are critical to managing this pest,” she said, “so anytime we can involve the public and get them to help us spot where they are is immensely helpful.” Other pests she has worked on recently are the Asian Gypsy Moth, Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, Box Tree Moth and Witchweed.

Throughout her time at the NCDA&CS, Joy has taken part in countless field assignments. “No two field days ever look the same, and that keeps the job exciting,” she said. “The work is dependent on the species being identified, the location of the infestation and other factors.” The most interesting field assignment she recalls was recently on the MOTSU terminal at Sunny Point where Asian Gypsy Moths had infested 1,000 containers of ammunition. “Just getting the opportunity to see the MOTSU facility was fascinating, but witnessing our team work in action as a collaborative effort with Customs and Border Protection and USDA-APHIS-PPQ and knowing that what we were doing was protecting North Carolina and other states from the introduction of this highly invasive insect was truly fulfilling,” she said. “I once heard N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler say that the ‘CS’ in NCDA&CS stands for customer service and that is what all of our field staff live by every day and every mission. So it is always an honor to serve with them.”

Although she takes pride in many projects across the division, Joy is most proud of the dedicated team of Plant Industry staff and the hard-work that they do every day to protect our state. “Being a regulator is often a thankless job, but we have an amazing team who, through their daily dedication, ensures homeowners have healthy landscape plants, Christmas trees and food for their family and we support N.C. Agricultural producers by safeguarding their commodities so they can be sold to other states and internationally,” she said. “For me and almost all of the Plant Protection team, there really isn’t much about our jobs that we don’t love and that shines through the work that we do.”

When she is not in the office, Joy can often be found at home talking about invasive pest species and other facets of N.C. agriculture with her family, especially her husband of 26 years, who is currently the ASA for Poultry for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. According to Joy, he helped fuel her passion for agriculture from the very beginning and still inspires her to this day. “This is who I am. Every road trip, my focus is on the horizon looking for a pest problem. Every time I go anywhere, my eyes are drawn to leaves that don’t look quite right and I am compelled to inspect the plant to determine the problem,” she said. “Being a Plant Pest Inspector is now just a part of my DNA, but I couldn’t be more thankful that the NCDA&CS has provided me with so many opportunities to grow in this career.” Join us in thanking Joy for all of her hard work and be sure to keep your eye out for invasive species and “see it…snap it…report it!”