Editor’s note: Kurt Boudonck is the Greenhouse Group Leader for the Trait Research unit of Bayer in RTP.  His responsibilities include crop plant experiments, management of people and facilities, and trait education.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Think about the last time you ate a sweet potato:

Maybe you baked one last night for a quick dinner after a long day at work.

Maybe you munched on perfectly crisp sweet potato fries alongside a burger and craft beer at your favorite downtown hot spot on Saturday night.

Or, maybe you had a heaping serving of your mom’s famous, marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole at last year’s Thanksgiving.

Regardless of when or how you last enjoyed the humble sweet potato, it’s practically certain that it was grown right here in your home state. In fact, North Carolina is known as the “Sweet Potato State,” as it produces more than half of the country’s total supply.

North Carolina’s legacy remains deeply rooted in agriculture far beyond sweet potatoes. The state produces a wide range of food crops including corn, wheat, peanuts, soybeans, apples and much more.

Despite this, agriculture is far too often overlooked when considering industries that are critical to our modern society. When many people think of farming, an image resembling the man and woman from the famous American Gothic painting – pitchfork and all – often comes to their minds, even nearly 100 years after it was created. Agriculture is driven by innovation and technology, which might come as a surprise to many people.

In reality, farming has long-since evolved into an industry driven forward by countless innovations in science and technology. Specifically, agriculture biotech is a booming biotechnology sector in North Carolina, with nearly 8,700 people, including hundreds of world-class scientists, working across more than 80 ag biotech companies statewide.

To educate classrooms and communities in our state and across the country about the true nature of modern farming, the Agriculture Council of America hosted National Agriculture Day on Tuesday, March 21.

At Bayer CropScience, we work every day to develop and improve agricultural tools and techniques for farmers around the world. We are proud to support National Agriculture Day, and we specifically encourage families in the Triangle to learn more about how their food made it from the farm to the table.

This is our mission because it is projected that earth will be home to nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050. With 10 billion mouths to feed, research suggests that worldwide agricultural production must increase dramatically by a whopping 60-70 percent. What’s more, this already overwhelming challenge must be accomplished on far less land than what’s available today due to factors like heat, drought, erosion and urbanization.

Through intense research in our laboratories and state-of-the-art greenhouses, our team at Bayer is making great strides to increase crop yields through sustainable measures. But we know this is not enough.

To be truly successful in our efforts, we need the help and support of other “AgVocates” outside our company and industry who understand the value of agriculture and help communicate with others throughout the year – not just on National Agriculture Day.

To become an AgVocate, consider these three ways to take action:

1. Talk to a farmer at your local farmer’s market, or start a vegetable garden (give sweet potato a try!) in your backyard to gain better knowledge of the hard work it takes to grow food. Adequate food production is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and it is important to appreciate farmers’ tremendous efforts.

2. Do your research on websites like www.croplifeamerica.org and GMOanswers.com to learn about the American agriculture industry and become an educated food consumer. Today’s genetically modified products are some of the most researched and tested agricultural products in history, having gone through countless rigorous tests to ensure your family’s safety. This is a quintessential example of ag biotech in action. By taking time to understand the full journey of these products – and the need for these products – from the field to your table, you are taking greater control of your purchase choices each time you visit the grocery store, instead of relying on marketing gimmicks to make those decisions for you.

3. If you are a parent or know a child interested in science and technology, strongly encourage them to continue their education in these fields. One day, they might become leaders of our future teams at Bayer CropScience to continue developing innovative agricultural solutions.

National Agriculture Day is not just about farming. It’s about creating a better world for the future of our children, communities and planet. This can only be accomplished through the kind of innovations in science and technology happening right here in the “Sweet Potato State,” combined with the support of an educated general public.

About the author

Bio: Kurt Boudonck

Kurt Boudonck is the Greenhouse Group Leader for the Trait Research unit of Bayer in RTP.  His responsibilities include crop plant experiments, management of people and facilities, and trait education.

Kurt was raised on a farm in Belgium where he developed a passion for agriculture. He then pursued a Masters Degree in Agricultural and Biological Sciences in Belgium. After earning his Masters, he moved to England, to get a PhD from the John Innes Centre, a research center of excellence in Plant Sciences.

In 2000, Kurt moved to RTP, North Carolina, USA to join Paradigm Genetics, a start-up company focused on identifying genes for crop improvement. Kurt was also active in other companies, including Biolex and Metabolon, both involved in Plant Biotech and Crop Improvement.

Since 2009, Kurt has been leading groups and projects at Bayer in RTP to develop innovative pest, weed and yield solutions for farmers of various crops.