New Program at Durham Tech Will Train Students for Growing Jobs in Plant Science

BioAg PRO logo
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A new training program at Durham Technical Community College will prepare students for good-paying entry-level jobs in North Carolina’s growing agricultural biotechnology industry beginning this fall.

The program, called the Bio-Agricultural Program Readiness Opportunity (BioAg PRO), will train about 40 students in plant science over its first two years, beginning with the first 10 students in September.

BioAg PRO is being developed by a partnership of Global Agricultural Development Corp., Durham Tech and North Carolina State University. It is supported by a $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences.

“This opportunity will benefit interested students, regional employers and our local communities,” said John Salmeron, Ph.D., program director for BioAg PRO and an advisor to Global Agricultural Development Corp., an industry consulting firm in Cary.

With more than 200 agricultural technology companies operating in the state, North Carolina is an international hotbed for plant science. Jobs in plant ag biotech are predicted to grow faster than in most fields, and the demand for qualified entry-level employees is particularly strong.

Commercial plug greenhouse
Students can get BioAg PRO training in commercial greenhouses.

“This new training opportunity builds on Durham Tech’s 17-year track record of preparing students for biomanufacturing jobs,” said Ingrid Charles, director of the college’s BioWork/Biopharma training program. “It will give students a rolling start on good career opportunities in a growing industry important to North Carolina’s economy.”

Agriculture is the state’s largest industry with an annual economic impact of about $96 billion across food, fiber and forestry production. Nearly 800,000 North Carolinians work in agriculture and agribusiness, accounting for about 17% of the state’s jobs.

Students in the BioAg PRO program will benefit from a hybrid learning model of in-class and online instruction, hands-on laboratory experiences and a paid internship with a regional ag science-related company. They will gain knowledge and skills in horticulture, soils and growing media, plant health management, controlled environments, logistics and other aspects of plant agriculture over six to eight months.

“The BioAg PRO program is a valuable addition to the ag training opportunities in North Carolina,” said Nandini Mendu, Ph.D., senior director of agriculture sector development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “It allows high school students to enter the ag workforce, better equipped for jobs in the industry that require a basic level of knowledge, experience and/or certification. It will also prepare those students who would like to train further to consider the two-year degree awarded by the Ag Institute at NC State. The BioAg PRO program builds a pipeline of talent and workforce development in one of the largest economic sectors of the state.”

BioAg PRO graduates can earn up to three industry-recognized certificates that will help them transition to entry-level employment: the BioWork technician certificate, a BioAg PRO certificate, and the N.C. Pesticide Applicators license.

Surveys indicate that employers in North Carolina would be willing to hire BioAg PRO graduates at salaries of $30,000 to $40,000 or higher.

John Salmeron
John Salmeron, Ph.D., BioAg PRO program director.

“Yes, we would definitely look to hire successful graduates of programs like this,” said Jeff Mast of Banner Greenhouses, a family-owned flower and vegetable plant producer in the western North Carolina community of Nebo since 1991. Banner is a major McDowell County employer.

Applicants to BioAg PRO must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or high school equivalency. Recruitment of students for the fall semester at Durham Tech is now under way.

Jeanine Davis, Ph.D., associate professor and extension specialist at NC State, is assisting BioAg PRO by identifying partners and opportunities in the horticulture industry. Long-term, the program founders plan to replicate it at other community colleges across North Carolina. 

The program’s leadership team is seeking other industry members, employers and community college personnel to contribute to its development.

“It’s inspiring that NIFA has chosen to support this effort,” said Kelly Chapman, business development director at Global Agricultural Development. “As a strong economic development asset for the region’s ag science industry that could become a state or national model, the training program exemplifies Global Ag’s mission, ‘The Creation of Value Through Vision and Commitment.’”

People interested in enrollment information on the BioAg PRO training, and businesses interested in participating, can contact Chapman at info@trustglobalag.com or Durham Tech at biotechce@durhamtech.edu. 

Additional advocacy for the program has been provided by NCBiotech, NCBIO, Durham Public Schools, Alexandria Real Estate, GreenLight Biosciences, Oerth Bio and Syngenta.

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
Tue, 07/13/2021 - 10:52