North Carolina research campus takes new look at agriculture

North Carolina has long been one of the top agricultural producing states east of the Mississippi River and a bold new research effort being financed primarily by private industry offers some interesting and challenging new directions for the state's agricultural industry.

In recent years cotton has once again become king in North Carolina, only to fall on hard times in 2007.

Peanuts were once the bell-cow crop, but have been in a slow decline over the past decade.

Tobacco, another long-time staple North Carolina crop has likewise fallen on hard times in recent years.

Vegetable crop production has been a primary benefactor of the hard times that more traditional crops have faced in recent years. A unique program in Kinston, N.C. has produced some alternative vegetable crops for growers in eastern North Carolina in an area particularly hard hit by the loss of tobacco and decrease in peanut acreage.

Amidst this growth, a giant in the food industry, Dole, has stepped in to build two facilities in the state to offer marketing opportunities for fruit and vegetable growers.

All the previous growth in fruits and vegetables is dwarfed by the potential for additional crops and expanded fruit and vegetable crops generated by a new Research Center being constructed in Kannapolis, N.C.

In 1965, North Carolina embraced a bold, new concept to develop the state's technological opportunities. The Research Triangle Park, which opened in 1965 to take advantage of the best minds at Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University and North Carolina State University, has been recognized as one of the greatest economic development coups in the country's history.

The Dole-supported Research Campus at Kannapolis is being heralded by state leaders with much the same zest as the research triangle was welcomed in the mid-1960s.

Dole has a salad facility in Bessemer, N.C., 40 miles from the research campus and another vegetable processing center in eastern North Carolina.

The North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis promises to enrich and bolster North Carolina's food industry much the way Research Triangle Park (RTP) changed the Raleigh-Durham region.

“Partnerships with the University of North Carolina system, Duke University and the North Carolina Community College System will extend the research and job training power of those institutions for the good of our state, our nation and the world,” according to Erskine Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina System. Bowles says, It has to fill your heart with hope for the future.”

Located just minutes from Charlotte, the North Carolina Research Campus will give the state a biotechnology corridor that stretches North Carolina. Biotechnology, health and wellness are at the heart of the new research campus, but one of the big benefactors will be agriculture.

This public-private venture on 350 acres will boast the most technologically advanced biotechnology campus in the country. It will feature several prestigious, university-run research facilities and labs as well as private industries. North Carolina's highly respected community college system will play a key role by providing job training for area residents who have been hard-hit by economic changes and job losses.

The project is centered on the former Pillowtex site in downtown Kannapolis, which laid off thousands of North Carolinians when it closed in 2003. The campus is expected to generate more than 5,000 technology jobs, which should generate more than 30,000 jobs in the decades to come in and around Kannapolis.

The driving force behind this bold new project is David Murdock, sole owner of Dole Foods and Castle and Cook, Inc. Murdock, a native of Ohio, has spent a great deal of time in North Carolina and owns a home there. His dream to open new doors to agriculture via technology comes with the backing of approximately $1.1 billion from his own company and other private investors.

“The most exciting part of this project is to be able to create sustainable, better-paying jobs for the people of Kannapolis and the region, and the creation of this scientific community centered on biotechnology will allow a transformation of this economy from a manufacturing-based one to one centered on scientific knowledge and research,” Murdock says.

The Center will partner with North Carolina State University for agricultural research, with Duke University for health and wellness research, with the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for economic development and other core curriculum development.

North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University and University of North Carolina Greensboro will also play key roles in development of the research facility.

In addition, the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building, which will house a state-of-the-art contract manufacturing biogenic facility, a DNA sequencing facility and an array of other analytical tools will be located on the North Carolina Research Campus.

BioNetwork, an initiative by the North Carolina Community College System to produce highly skilled and productive workers will play a role in the Research Center operation. BioNetwork Community College instructors will run a 40,000-square-foot center focusing on education and training for biotechnology jobs that will be created as a result of campus discoveries and initiatives.

North Carolina's fruit and vegetable industry will get a significant boost from the 311,000 square foot David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building, which will house the Dole Nutrition Institute. The Dole Nutrition Institute will be dedicated to scientific research on nutrition, fruits and vegetables. UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University will collaborate as the lead researchers.

A highlight of the new facility for agriculture is the North Carolina State University Institute for Fruit and Vegetable Science. This institute will extend the university's outstanding programs bridging basic life science research to real world agricultural applications to enhance plant breeding.

An agricultural research station is being constructed as part of the campus with over 45,000 square feet of greenhouses and additional land will be devoted to agricultural experiments. Here, companies and universities can test their theories in a real life agricultural setting.

Another boost to agriculture will come from cooperative programs by North Carolina A&T and UNC Greensboro. These universities will conduct programs in post-harvest technologies and food science related to nutrition and health concerns. These programs will develop the science needed to transform plants and their bioactive properties and constituents within them into healthy, appealing foods.

With one million square feet of office and laboratory space, the North Carolina Research Campus will complete a bona fide biotechnology corridor in the state stretching from the agricultural enterprises of the east to Research Triangle Park, the Triad region to Asheville, and down to Kannapolis and Charlotte.

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