Agricultural technology superstar Randy Marcuson has a quick answer to those who wonder how North Carolina continues to expand its global leadership in the field.

“Innovators spawn other innovators,” the former president and CEO of highly successful Embrex told a gathering of 150 ag biotech entrepreneurs, investors, academic scientists and others attending [last] week’s fourth annual Ag Biotech Entrepreneurial Showcase at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Marcuson knows first-hand. He led Embrex from humble origins in 1985 as a small Research Triangle Park company with a unique device, called Inovoject, for vaccinating poultry eggs without damaging the shells. What started as a possible device-selling company evolved into a technology leasing company that’s now used in more than 90 percent of the world’s poultry production.

Embrex became publicly traded in 1991 and was sold in 2006 to Pfizer Animal Health, a division of Pfizer Inc., for $155 million. Pfizer subsequently renamed the animal health division Zoetis. Now, in 2016, the former Embrex vaccine plant in the Scotland County town of Maxton has been sold to Huvepharma, an animal-health company based in Bulgaria.

Marcuson gave major kudos to the Biotech Center as a key driver of North Carolina’s fast-growing ag biotech sector, pointing to his most recent involvement as board chairman of animal health diagnostics company Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD).

NCBiotech helped boost the privately held company with an early $20,000 loan followed by two Collaborative Funding Grants to North Carolina State University totaling $180,000, research support that has helped the company raise more than $30 million in outside funding and provide jobs to some 40 people. The Center also funded a summer intern to help AAD’s CEO Joy Parr Drach propel the business.

NCBiotech recognition also came from another major keynote speaker at the day-long event – Jim Blome, president, CEO and head of crop protection, North American region, for global seed and chemical company Bayer CropScience.

Blome is a member of the AgBiotech Advisory Council, a group of key ag leaders chaired by AAD’s Drach, which helps guide NCBiotech’s work in growing the sector statewide. So he frequently rubs elbows with NCBiotech personnel and champions the partnerships and connections promoted by the organization.

Blome, like Marcuson, said innovation is a North Carolina agricultural hallmark, and needs to be. He pointed to Bayer’s imperative to be a leader in that arena to stay ahead of population growth, changing diets and weather, pressures from hunger, water needs and pests, and a growing desire for sustainable solutions.

His talk came hours before news began circulating about Bayer’s interest in buying Monsanto and two days before Bayer announced it was selling its environmental science consumer business to French company SBM. So he didn’t discuss those specifics. But he did note that critical mass and scale are being redefined in the business because low commodity prices and increased regulatory pressures force consolidation and growth.

That’s even happening with family farms, he noted, adding that he expects to see the day when only 50,000 farms will be producing the world’s livestock and crops. “That means we’ll know not only who you are, but we’ll know the name of your dog.”

Blome said he likes to share a quote from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the importance of ever-increasing farm efficiencies: “Farmers enable the rest of us to choose what we do with our lives.”

[Note: On Monday, Bayer AG formally announced a $62 billion bid for Monsanto.]

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center