JTI Leaf Services is no stranger to NC State. The two organizations have been close partners in research, teaching and extension for over 10 years.
But last summer, when JTI’s US-based agronomy manager, John Radcliff, and corporate affairs and communications manager, John Holshouser, toured the NC State University Plant Sciences Building, the new headquarters of the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, they knew they had an opportunity to connect on something special.
JTI’s mission is to lead the way in becoming the most innovative and sustainably run tobacco company in the world. N.C. PSI is addressing some of the grandest agricultural and environmental sustainability challenges facing the world today through interdisciplinary, team-based plant science.
This close alignment on innovation and sustainability made supporting N.C. PSI a natural choice. So when the opportunity came to build on its close working relationship with NC State, JTI named a lab space in the Plant Sciences Building.
We interviewed Radcliff and Holshouser to learn more about JTI’s commitments to sustainability and innovation, how their organization closely aligns with N.C. PSI, and why they are supporting this effort, which brings together some of the brightest minds in academia, government, and industry to elevate the agricultural sciences.
When did you first learn of the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, and why did you ultimately decide to support it?
Holshouser: We originally learned about the initiative back in August, and we were immediately interested. We could appreciate what the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative is and what it’s working towards: collaboration and innovation in agricultural science. Here at JTI, we understand the importance of collaboration and innovation, and we strive to cultivate them within our organization and our growers. JTI is committed to building a more sustainable future. It’s very important for our industry, and we push this throughout the company culture. While we’ve been tackling sustainability related issues across the globe in our business for many years, we do recognize that we still have a long way to go. So the work and the research that’s going to come out from the Plant Sciences Initiative is going to help us – and, really, everybody involved in agriculture – advance toward these goals. That really attracted us to this, and what we want to see going forward.
You are committed to making JTI the most innovative and sustainably run tobacco company in the world. How does your support of N.C. PSI align with this commitment?
Radcliff: Sustainable tobacco production can only come with improvement at every level, but especially on the farm; and improvements in yield, quality, and environmental sustainability impact the areas where we think the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative can make a real difference.
Holshouser: Right. Ultimately that sustainability has to be part of our mindset and our day-to-day decisions. Year after year, we’re seeing an increasing number of creative and innovative initiatives from our JTI colleagues across the globe with an emphasis on becoming more sustainable. We’re really proud of that collaborative effort, and it’s that collaborative effort that aligns us with the initiative you’re doing at NC State. The work coming out of this initiative is going to help our growers across North Carolina and countrywide. And us being an international company, we share these skills with growers and farms, through JTI, around the globe. It’s going to be a worldwide effort.
Why did you decide to name an NC State University Plant Sciences Building lab space in your organization’s honor?
Holshouser: We were fortunate to get a tour of the building last year, and we walked away knowing that we wanted to be involved. We brought the information back to JTI, and we had immediate buy-in from the company. We ended up supporting a lab space for a couple reasons. First, we wanted to continue to be associated with results, and we know that will come out of a lab setting. Secondly, it really comes back to sustainability. The world we live in requires innovation in agriculture, and we want JTI to be part of that innovation. So we’re proud to have the space named after JTI Leaf Services, where important discoveries are going to be made that benefit our growers.
One component of JTI’s mission is to lead the way in reduced-risk tobacco products and new ways of doing business. How could NC State and N.C. PSI play a role in this mission?
Radcliff: In our world consumers and businesses are constantly evolving, and we very closely follow research on different varieties and cultural practices that could influence the chemistry of our products.
Holshouser: Right, JTI’s long-term success is going to be defined by our ability to embrace products and technologies of the future while staying true to the qualities that have defined our products for decades. In a lot of cases, this means higher quality leaf or leaf with very specific characteristics that meet the needs of customers across the globe; and the advances in agricultural technology and best practices that are coming out of programs, like the N.C. PSI, are going to help us reach those needs.
JTI has a longstanding association with NC State as a sponsor of tobacco research projects and a supporter of teaching and extension. Why is NC State a perennial partner?
Radcliff: NC State has the largest tobacco extension and outreach program anywhere. NC State provides the science and data that our growers need – and JTI needs – to make informed decisions on improving tobacco production. As I mentioned before, these improvements are critical to our business and farming across the country, really.
The NC State University Plant Sciences Building will host the work of top minds in academia, government and industry. Will you and your employees be involved with the building’s activities?
Radcliff: Ultimately, through continued financial support of the tobacco research projects and collaborations with faculty on addressing issues, we hope that this is just the start of several opportunities to contribute to the future of agriculture and innovation. I would love to see some of our people working hands-on with the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative.
Holshouser: Yes, we’re very fortunate to have a lot of smart people at JTI. For me, I’ve learned there’s a benefit to just being in the room and listening and learning from those people. And that’s what the initiative aims to do: put top minds together to improve and solve the issues that our agricultural system faces here in the country and the world at large. John and his team of agronomists, along with our agronomy teams across the globe, are working on activities and programs housed here in Raleigh. And ultimately, at the end of the day, if work is being done to improve our grower communities, JTI is going to be there to help support it.
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.