North Carolina invests in world-class plant science research

A plant sciences research complex at NC State University got a big boost this week as voters approved a $2 billion bond package that includes $85 million for the Centennial Campus building.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton said the March 15 vote is a historic milestone for the college and “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for North Carolina agriculture and our growing life sciences community.”

The plant sciences building will facilitate research aimed at increasing agricultural yields in ways that protect the environment and strengthen the economy.

It is part of a larger, interdisciplinary initiative focused on making North Carolina the global hub for plant sciences. A feasibility study released in 2015 showed that the initiative could add up to 32,000 jobs and boost associated economic output by $9.2 billion by 2024.

NC State’s Chancellor Randy Woodson said the building is the “first step in our interdisciplinary approach of bringing together North Carolina’s agriculture community with the great biotech industry we have here in the (Research) Triangle and across the state.”

Agriculture is North Carolina’s economic engine, generating $76 billion a year, and agricultural groups have shown strong support of the plant sciences initiative. More than 40 agricultural commodity and other groups have contributed about $9 million to the effort.

In the research complex, university officials will bring scientists from various disciplines – including crop and horticultural science, soil science, plant pathology, entomology, plant and microbial biology and biochemistry – together with engineers, mathematicians, physicists and economists from the university, government and industry.

Dean Richard Linton of NC State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Dean Richard Linton of NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Noting that 85 percent of future jobs in agriculture nationwide and globally will involve plant sciences, Linton said, “It’s our responsibility to help prepare for that future. That’s what the Plant Sciences Initiative is all about.”

“It’s also about ensuring that our students have access to world-class facilities that inspire innovation, collaborative and interdisciplinary problem-solving that will make them much better prepared for the job market and for leadership in the agricultural and life sciences,” he added.

The Plant Sciences Initiative evolved from discussions that CALS administration had a few years ago with thousands of stakeholders in farming, agribusiness, science and technology as the college developed its strategic plan, Linton said. Stakeholders called for more research that enhances agricultural productivity and profitability and that spins off agricultural biotechnology companies.

On Friday March 18, three days after the bond vote, the university will convene task forces to help guide the initiative’s next steps: Experts from the university and agriculture-related organizations and industries make up the task forces, which will make recommendations in four areas: governance and leadership; research and technology; advocacy and resource development; and workforce education and consumer awareness.

— D. Shore