RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., May 21, 2013- Touting North Carolina as one of the top states in the country for biotechnology, Senator Kay Hagan, D-N.C., emphasized  the industry’s contribution to the state’s economy during Syngenta Biotechnology’s Advanced Crop Lab opening last week. 

Syngenta unveiled its new crop research facility during a grand opening event last week at the company’s Research Triangle Park Innovation Center in North Carolina.

The $72 million Advanced Crop Lab allows company researchers to simulate any agricultural climate and precisely measure plant inputs. The facility houses 30 climate-controlled growth environments in all-glass greenhouses. According to Syngenta, the lab “can simulate conditions from Iowa in one room and from Africa right next to it.” 

“The rest of the world would like to take what we’ve got right here,” Hagan said. “We’ve got to continue to invest the money, research, and development that goes into this biotechnology industry because it’s making a huge difference, not only in agriculture, but in all of science. This is an industry that could be taken from us if we don’t actively engage in what’s going on here.”

Hagan joined Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and others earlier this month by signing a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis urging them to engage U.S. trading partners in discussions on breaking down barriers to biotechnology.

“Trade disruptions caused by barriers to biotechnology derived crops hurt both American farmers and the international customers they serve,” stated the letter. “Regulatory asynchrony, zero tolerance policies, and re-registration requirements are among the most prevalent and costly regulatory hurdles.”

According to Robert Berendes, Syngenta’s head of Business Development and Global and Development, the Advanced Crop Lab “is the biggest infrastructure investment Syngenta has made. He also said the company’s RTP center is the “leading biotech center among three across the globe.”

Calling the new crop lab, “a view into 2050,” Berendes said the technology in the center is able to simulate every agricultural condition at any time of day. Construction on the 136,000-square-foot facility, located within the 50 acres of Syngenta grounds at the RTP Innovation Center, began in 2011.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the opening positions his state “uniquely” to move forward in agriculture and agribusiness. Agriculture generates more than $70 billion in revenue for the state each year. Troxler also said the state increased agricultural exports by one-half billion over one year. 

While some believe the future of agriculture is dependent on the weather, Troxler said he believes the emphasis should be on agricultural research.

Similarly, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said private investments like the Advanced Crop would drive the state’s overall economy and employment rates. North Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped below nine percent on Friday. “This is good news, but we have a long way to go,” McCrory said. “I’m convinced one of the ways we’re going to get out of this recession is agriculture.”

“Agriculture is going to lead North Carolina out of this recession, not just because of export opportunities, but also because of this integration into biotech,” he added.

In a 2010 study for the non-profit corporation North Carolina Biotech (NCBiotech), the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice reported that biotechnology in the state generates $64 billion in economic activity each year and employs more than 58,000 people in 500 companies. 

NCBiotech’s goal is to add $30 billion in revenue by 2020 through linking the assets of more than 80 agricultural biotech companies in the state with grant, fellowship and loan programs.  

“Technology is going to be key enabler to help feed nine billion people,” said Syngenta’s regional director for North America, Vern Hawkins, recognizing the expected global population in 2050.

Hawkins said his company shifted its focus over the last few years to “help our people understand how technology needs to be utilized in complementary ways to serve growers.”

He said Syngenta is implementing an “integrated platform” to help growers decide when and how to use products at the most opportune times through using precision agricultural technology and pinpointing the most useful traits. “It’s not just about inventing a product, it’s about working with growers,” he said, adding that the goal is for innovations “to be adopted, not just invented.” 

The founder of Syngenta Biotechnology, Mary-Dell Chilton, helped produce the first “transgenic plant” by finding that genes could be introduced in plants to create a new genetic line with researchers at Washington University in the 1970s. Present at the Advanced Crop Lab opening, she noted that, “We can do things now that we’ve always wanted to do,” in the new RTP facility by being able to observe and measure small changes in plant traits. Chilton, who is a Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology, began her industry career with the company’s predecessor, CIBA-Geigy, in 1983. 

Photos of the Advanced Crop Lab are below, courtesy of Syngenta:



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