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Megatrends to Assets: Shaping Ag Biotech Strategies At October 10 Summit

By Jennifer Woodford, NCBiotech Writer

The Ag Biotech Summit 2012 is only days away.

There’s still time to register, however, to join state and national leaders in agriculture, business, science, education and government October 10 at the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

That will put you on the “inside” to help shape strategies for continued expansion of North Carolina’s lead in agricultural biotechnology.

The Summit is hosted by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the North Carolina Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council and the Kenan Institute for Engineering Technology & Science. Visit the Ag Biotech Summit website for the full agenda, speaker bios and online registration

Megatrends Inform The Future

Agriculture and biotechnology are the state’s largest industries, employing almost 800,000 people and returning an annual economic impact of $130 billion. Securing the future success of the ag biotech industry requires state leaders to consider the impact of global megatrends such as an increasing world population, the impact of climate change and the limitations on natural resources like land and water.             

Jack Bobo, JD, M.S., a U.S. Department of State senior advisor for biotechnology and chief of the Biotechnology & Textile Trade Division, is the luncheon keynote speaker who will address the challenges and opportunities created by global megatrends.

“It’s really surprising that we don’t spend more time talking about agriculture,” he said. “In many ways, it has the most dramatic impact on the global environment, and it is the most important thing we do as humans to help ourselves survive. So we really need to figure out a way to do it better, especially as we go to nine billion people in 2050. We need to be able to produce 70 percent more food using less water, less land, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. Obviously, that’s a huge challenge.” 

Challenges that ag biotech innovations are already addressing. Bobo points to International Service for

the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications 2011 statistics that show 16.7 million farmers planted biotech crops and more than 90 percent of them were in the developing world. The farmers experienced advantages like increased yield and the ability to control insects and weeds.

 In North Carolina, farmers are not the only beneficiaries of ag biotech. Companies like Summit participants Agile Sciences, BASF Plant Sciences, Bayer CropScience, DuPont Pioneer, Medicago, Monsanto, NanoVector, Novozymes and Syngenta are bringing to market a range of ag biotech products. They range from crop varieties with enhanced traits to plant-based medicines and biofuels produced from grasses and other plant sources. The products not only involve and improve plants but livestock and marine life as well.

Assets to Leadership

“We had a digression for the last century. We were able to gain a lot from petroleum,” said Steven Burke, president and chief executive officer of the Biofuels Center of North Carolina. Burke is moderating the Summit panel discussion Moving from Assets to Leadership. “In the future, we’re going to need more and more for human survival from the land.  New technologies, new outputs and new efficiencies in biotechnology and agriculture will be required.”

Burke emphasizes that North Carolina’s continued strength in ag biotech also depends on growing a new generation of farmers. According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the average age of farmers in the state is almost 60.

“If we are to gain agricultural benefit in the coming years,” Burke said, “first off, we’re going to need people to do it. Second, we need to show the promise of new agricultural crops and applications, and prove that they are worth the attention of a new generation.”

North Carolina is uniquely positioned, Bobo acknowledged, to tackle global trends and to mobilize the state’s assets because of its concentration of agriculture, biotechnology and state-of-the-art research. “That creates a huge opportunity for North Carolina to not just be a part of the success of the technology but to be a leader in it,” he said.

The Ag Biotech Summit also features a morning keynote address on hunger, health and energy. Panel discussions throughout the day focus on policies and regulations, ag biotech as more than genetic engineering and disruptive technologies. Additional participants include:

  • James B. Hunt Jr., former governor of North Carolina
  • Robert Paarlberg, Ph.D., professor of political science, Wellesley College
  • Sonny Ramaswamy, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture
  • Commissioner Steve Troxler, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • William Weldon, Ph.D., vice president of global research and development, Elanco Animal Health
  • Brent Jackson, North Carolina State Senator
  • Richard Burr, United States Senator from North Carolina
  • Jason Carver, economist with the Global Trade Policy Analysis Division, US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service

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