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Research Triangle Park News

Agriculture biotech increases at RTP

1/25/2012

Published in the Herald-Sun on January 21, 2012

BY LAURA OLENIACZ

loleniacz@heraldsun.com; 419-6636

DURHAM — BASF’s announcement this week that it was planning to re-locate its choice plant science headquarters to the Research Triangle Park was not a complete surprise to some local officials, who see the area as a hub for businesses in the agricultural biotechnology sector.

Paul Ulanch, director of biotechnology crop development at the N.C. Biotechnology Center, said there are a number of multinational agricultural biotechnology companies with a presence in the park. Some of those companies are increasing their operations here, and others have attracted additional business and contributed to the growth of emerging companies.

The N.C. Biotechnology Center wants to see continued development in the state’s agriculture industry through the use of biotechnology, Ulanch said, and state officials have set a target of growing the sector by by $30 billion by 2020. 

The Biotechnology Center has helped in that effort, awarding $13 million in grants and loans since 1984, he said.

“We’ve come to realize that is are a large number of agricultural tech companies in the state,” he said. “(We) see growth not only in them, but (they’re) attracting additional ag-biotech (business).”

Channapatna S. Prakash, a professor at the Tuskegee University in Alabama and president of the nonprofit AgBioWorld, said the list of companies with a presence in the area includes BASF as well as Bayer CropScience, Syngenta and Monsanto. 

“RTP is the Silicon Valley of biological sciences in many ways,” Prakash said, adding that he believes the presence of the universities, as well as supportive state initiatives have helped make the area attractive to companies in the sector.

Jonathan Bryant, BASF Plant Science’s vice president of business management for the Americas and Asia, said BASF established its offices the Research Triangle Park initially for its crop protection business. The company had looked at a number of locations around the country when it formed its plant science group in 1998.

“We came back to this location where we had land, we had an environment where we could attract talented employees,” he said in an earlier interview with The Herald-Sun. “Our business is entirely dependent on innovation and for that, you need to locate in a place where we have top talent and innovation talent wants to come and live.”

The company now has its largest conglomeration of plant science employees in the park. Out of a total of 777 workers at its offices in the park, about 200 in the division. The company has a total of 839 employees in the plant science division worldwide, Bryant said.

Other companies with a presence in the park include St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto Co., which has a facility that employs about 70 workers. At the site, the company’s research supports development of products geared to allow farmers to increase production of crops that can also withstand environmental stresses.

Another company in the sector, Bayer CropScience, has its main research areas for its company’s BioScience global seed and trait business in the Triangle, Europe and Asia. The company is a subsidiary of the German company Bayer AG. 

Spokesman Jack Boyne said the Research Triangle Park area is a “growing hub” for the company’s BioScience unit, which employs 150 people in its facilities here.

“Moreover, we are in the process of building a 60,000-square-foot greenhouse and laboratory facility, which will accommodate our growing BioScience research and development needs,” Boyne said.

Swiss company Syngenta has its plant biotechnology research and development operations based in the park, with about 400 people working at its facilities in Durham County, said company spokesman Steven Goldsmith.

The company has also launched a new expansion project, announcing plans in May to begin a $71 million, 147,000-square-foot research and development complex.

Also at an event held at the Biotechnology Center last year, state and company officials announced a new facility called the Alexandria Ag-Tech Center that would include laboratory space and other amenities to help grow the agricultural biotechnology industry.

The facility was slated to come online in the park this year. 

“We’re glad to see this happening — that they want to grow operations in North Carolina,” Ulanch said. “We’d like to believe that ... this stems from multiple avenues: It’s a good place for them to do business. They’ve had roots here from a long history.”
© heraldsun.com 2012