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New day in North Carolina agriculture heralded at joint foundations meeting

The fall joint meeting luncheon of the N.C. Agricultural, Dairy and Tobacco foundations on Nov. 10 was charged with excitement over news of a potentially impactful future for NC State University, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the state.

“It’s an exciting time for agriculture in North Carolina,” said Dr. Richard Reich, associate commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who brought greetings from Steve Troxler, state agriculture commissioner, as well as news about the successes of the recent N.C. State Fair.

“There could not be a more exciting time for N.C. agriculture,” said Dr. Richard Linton, CALS dean, who updated the foundation board members on the college’s Plant Sciences Initiative (PSI). The initiative aims to include an interdisciplinary research and collaborative systems approach that builds on the strengths of academe, industry and government to increase agricultural yields and profitability – and to make North Carolina the global hub for plant-related innovation.

Virginia Yopp, executive director of Extension development, and Richard Campbell, CALS chief communication officer, meet before Campbell delivers news about the Connect NC bond package.
Virginia Yopp, executive director of Extension development, and Richard Campbell, CALS chief communication officer, meet before Campbell delivers news about the Connect NC bond package.

“It is indeed a very exciting time,” said Richard Campbell, CALS’ new chief communication officer, as he outlined strategic efforts to engage college stakeholders and inform audiences about a new bond package that will, among other things, enable the plans for the PSI and needed research facilities to come into being, without incurring new taxes or tax increases.

The Connect NC bond, announced in October by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson and Troxler, along with other state leaders, is a $2 billion package that citizens across the state will vote on March 15. The proposed Plant Sciences Research Complex is one of two university projects for the NC State Centennial Campus that the bond would benefit.

The bond would also provide for a new NCDA&CS lab, enable projects in 76 counties and enhance vital infrastructure investment, as well as funding building and repairs for parts of the UNC system and modernizing the state’s community colleges.

“We’re very blessed to have the partnerships with these three foundations and the NCDA&CS,” Campbell said. “And with the PSI, we have a chance to revolutionize how plant science is done.”

Thus, he said, the challenge now for the foundations members and other college stakeholders “is to be ambassadors and educate your communities on what Connect NC is.”

While asking those present “to fire up your ag base,” he reminded them that “this is in fact a historic agriculture investment in our state.”

He called upon the group to help mobilize local community efforts to help educate constituents in what the bond can mean for the state’s citizens both rural and urban.

“Agriculture built North Carolina,” he said. “The N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative will keep it growing.”

Returning to the podium, Linton said that, if asked the biggest potential impact of the PSI, he might say it would be the innovation that grows the state’s biosciences jobs, markets and businesses, or it could be the economic dividends of increased productivity and profitability. Or perhaps the promise of educational opportunities and of ongoing significant basic and applied research. Or perhaps healthy, safe, affordable food. Or the generation of public and private partnerships among multiple disciplines.

However, he said, “I truly believe I’d like us to say in the future that this was the first time North Carolina came together to push something like this forward. And this can be an example, a template of what we can do not only in plant sciences but in other research areas to grow North Carolina.”

As a screen image near the podium proclaimed, “It’s a new day in North Carolina Agriculture.”– Terri Leith