Growing up alongside the plants in his parents’ greenhouse business, Cary Rivard knew exactly what he wanted to study in college.

Plant pathology was a no-brainer for Rivard, but it wasn’t until an internship at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and a serendipitous pairing with plant pathology professor Frank Louws that cemented his interest in vegetable production and led to a ground-breaking research project.

Rivard, a freshly minted doctoral graduate of the Department of Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, conducted an accomplished research program in tomato grafting, a propagation method that involves the attachment of two halves of different plants to make a whole, new plant. The rootstock (below-ground portion of a plant) is selected for its ability to resist disease, and the scion (above-ground portion) is chosen based on fruit quality. Grafted together, they form an ideal plant.

Rivard’s work in tomato grafting earned him a first place prize in the university’s Graduate Research Symposium last year. More important, his research program with Louws played a key role in jump-starting the use of tomato grafting as a propagation method in the United States.

“At the time that Dr. Louws and I started our work on the grafting project, there were very few people grafting tomatoes in the United States,” Rivard says. “Most thought it wouldn’t work or that it wasn’t economically feasible for production.