Plant Sciences Initiative Keeps NC at Forefront of Advanced Ag Research
When North Carolina State University leaders asked, “What can we be best at,” agriculture research and innovation was a compelling answer.
And it will start taking physical form later this year as the Plant Sciences Research Complex, part of the state's new Plant Sciences Initiative (PSI).
NC State will break ground on its stunning $160 million building on the Centennial Campus because it wants to become “the leading research and development plant science program in the world,” said Stephen Briggs, launch director.
Briggs described the PSI to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Crop, Animal, and Food Tech Showcase at the Cotton Room in downtown Durham.
North Carolina is an ideal location to build a world-class plant science program for a number of reasons, Briggs noted. Agriculture is the state’s number-one industry at $86 billion annually, and the state is the third most agriculturally diverse nationally, growing 90 different commodities. It has most soil types and varied climates.
In addition, leading global biotechnology and agbio companies have headquarters in the state. And numerous bio and agbio startups, many spinouts from its three major research universities, do business here.
The N.C. State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) has 10 field laboratories and 18 off-campus research stations it oversees in partnership with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It also has the largest plant breeding program in the world.
“The people are here, the facilities are here. Agriculture talks in North Carolina,” Briggs said.
PSI is based on an interdisciplinary systems approach. “It will attract multi-disciplinary researchers to work on big agriculture problems. It will have an impact on N.C. State students as well.
“Current and future employers want people trained horizontally, not just vertically,” Briggs said. “They need to understand the economics at the farm level, the social aspects of food, and global political situations. They need to understand it from field to fork.”
PSI has raised more than $144 million toward the $160 million Plant Sciences Research Complex. The Golden LEAF Foundation awarded NC State $45 million, its largest single grant, to support constructing the facility. The N.C. General Assembly established the foundation in 1999 to administer one half of the state’s Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers.
Another $9 million was contributed to the project by 42 agricultural groups across the state and $85 million was approved by voters through the NC Connect Bond. That should be a good deal. Briggs pointed out that for every $1 spent on agricultural research, $19.90 is returned in economic benefits.
“It will be the premier, world-class facility that helps attract and keep top faculty and researchers,” Briggs said.
Expected to open by fall 2021, the facility will have five floors and rooftop greenhouse space. The first floor will include a 135-seat auditorium. Floors 2-4 will be research oriented with anchor labs, collaborative environments and space partners can lease.
Like all new buildings at NC State, it will be certified by the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Even the landscaping will reflect its purpose, with showcase pots of new hybrids and varieties and ornamentals with university or state stories.
“The building is on time and on budget,” said Briggs.
PSI, he said, will position the state among the top plant science programs in the world,