The focus of the AGBIO Summit at NC State University’s McKimmon Center in Raleigh is to examine problems such as how we’re going to feed an estimated world population of 9 billion by 2050, and empower attendees to take action, says Gwyn Riddick, the NC Biotech Center’s vice president for agbio.

The event, the first in partnership with North Carolina State, one of the largest land grand universities in the nation, is actually the third the NC Biotechnology Center has held to create a collaborative Agbio community in the state. About 530 attendees are expected, a 65 percent increase over last year’s event.

“We have more than 55 speakers from coast to coast this year and expanded it to a two-day event.” The first day will focus on “A dialog about all the AGBIO technologies out there, public acceptance of it, government policies, regulations, and the products that have the promise of meeting this great challenge: how we’re going to feed 9 billion people.”

An unparalleled agbio environment

Riddick, who led the Biotech Center’s Agbio initiative since 2010, previously started the center’s first regional center in Winston-Salem, which provided a template for others in the state. North Carolina. He points out why the state is a natural for an agbio focus.

“A key phrase I use when I give talks staggers people,” Riddick says. “Plants are becoming factories to produce many things besides food. Medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and industrial chemicals previously made from petroleum.

The state has unparalleled climate, soil and environmental diversity, he notes. It has the mountains, the Piedmont, the coast. It didn’t become a hub for every major Agbio company by accident, he says. “Agriculture is the number one industry in the state. We have one of the largest systems of farm research stations in the U.S. (only Texas has a larger one) with 17,000 acres.

“That’s a humongous asset available to companies that come here to do research and development.”

More than 80 agbio companies with a workforce of 8,000 call North Carolina home. Five of the top six agbiotech companies – including BASF, Bayer Cropscience, Novozymes and Sygenta, have headquarters or major research facilities in the state and numerous entrepreneurial start-ups are working on agbio technologies. Major equipment manufacturers such as John Deere also have a significant presence in the state.

Agriculture adds $80 billion to the states annual gross domestic product, 17 percent of the total.

Pulling together all the stakeholders

Until the Biotech Center started its agbio initiative, however, Riddick says, “They didn’t know they were a community.” The idea of the initiative and the Summit is to connect the dots between stakeholders to encourage collaboration, discussion, and action.

“The last five years we’ve pulled together all these people,” Riddick says, “from economic development, universities, scientists, companies, and the entrepreneurial sector into a community. What we have here is a critical mass of all the agbio parts, research, commercialization, large multinational companies and entrepreneurs. We also have the supporting elements such as education at the universities and community colleges.”

A meeting like the Summit is “A summary of all that,” he says. “But it’s not just about North Carolina. It’s about the world.”

Richard Linton, dean of NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says the Summit is about bringing together industry, the government and universities. “No other venue in the world can equal this,” he says. “We’re the Mecca, the hub for agbio. Nowhere else in America has the diversity of North Carolina with its 90 different agbio commodity groups, world-class research institutions within 20 miles, and diverse climate and soil types that mimic much of the East Coast and the world.”

The goal: become an annual destination

Linton notes that in addition to the state’s plant diversity, it is also strong in animals and animal food products. “We’re strong in pork, poultry and beef cattle – it’s an economic engine in the state.”

He adds, “It’s my hope and the goal of the Summit that it becomes a destination every year for learning the most important emerging issues in agriculture and the life sciences. We want to come away with a strong feeling that we all need to work together to leverage our resources, ideas and people.”

That’s why, he says, the second day of the Summit agenda includes “A call to action. We’ll be asking, where do we need to go from here and what do we need to do to go there? What is the pathway forward? That’s the most important intent of this program.”