The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is launching a new center to drive creation and commercialization of biotechnology-based crops.

Grants totalling $350,000 kickstart the program to drive crop program to feed state’s livestock industry.

The Biotech Center on Wednesday launched the Biotechnology Crops Commercialization Center with its focus being on crops that could prove beneficial to the state economy.

Dr. Alan Kriz, a biocrop industry veteran, will serve as executive director of the center. He has worked for both Monsanto and BASF Crop Science as well as Dekald Genetics.

“Alan brings valuable perspective and experience to our statewide ag biotech initiative,” said Gwyn Riddick, M.B.A., NCBiotech vice president of agricultural biotechnology.

“He’s a key contributor to our initiative promoting development of new or improved crops statewide that we believe can boost the ag economy from the current $70 billion to more than $100 billion by 2020.”

RTP and North Carolina is home to a growing bio-agriculture industry cluster.

“Swine Feed Project”

The center launches with $350,000 in grants to fund what is called the “Swine Feed Project.”

Golden LEAF is providing $150,000. while the North Carolina Pork Council and Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, will each provide $100,000. The grants are for two years.

The goal is to encourage North Carolina farms to grow gain sorghum, which isn’t as water thirsty as corn, and help the state provide more home-grown feed for the state’s hog industry, which is one of the nation’s largest.

The Biotech Center noted that the state’s livestock industry, including poultry and swine, consumes some 300 million bushels of grain per year while North Carolina farms produce some 80 million bushels. 

“We need to reduce the calories coming into North Carolina by boat or train,” said Dr. Terry Coffey, chief science and technology officer at Murphy-Brown. “Reducing our grain deficit requires a coordinated effort involving farmers, policy makers, a wide range of partners. We think this Swine Feed Project is an excellent opportunity to capitalize on the Biotech Center’s 28-year history of statewide relationship-building to enhance one of the state’s most important industries.”

Program backers believe the sorghum can gain support among farmers who can plant a second crop such as winter wheat.

Murphy-Brown will purchase the sorghum, the company said.