RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – After more than a half century in New Jersey, a national agricultural research organization is moving from the Garden State to Raleigh.
The Inter-regional Research Project No. 4 – IR-4 for short – conducts the investigations necessary to register chemical pesticides and biopesticides used on hundreds of the nation’s smaller-volume specialized crops. These include fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices, ornamentals and flowers that are used for food or medicinal purposes, or that are visually appealing.
What is the IR-4 Project?
Since 1963, the Inter-regional Research Project #4 (IR-4 Project) has been the only public entity in the United States to facilitate registrations of conventional pesticides and biopesticides on Specialty Food crops (fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices) and non-food Environmental Horticulture crops.
Source: IR-4 website
IR-4 will begin moving its Princeton-based headquarters staff south in October. The relocation will occur over the next two years to minimize operational disruptions.
The IR-4 program, which is largely federally funded, has called Rutgers University home since it opened its doors in 1963. But the school announced recently that it no longer could commit to serving as the host location. North Carolina State University was ready, able and willing to step into the breach.
IR-4’s primary goal is to support growers’ efforts to provide high-quality, healthy plants for consumers. The project is responsible for most pest-management tools registered in the United States for the specialty category.
North Carolina’s specialty crops, which include dozens of agricultural products ranging from sweet corn to Christmas trees, contribute many millions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association notes that North Carolina is the nation’s second-biggest producer of real Christmas trees, providing more than 20% of the U.S. market. The North Carolina Fraser fir has been judged the nation’s best, chosen as the official White House Christmas tree more than any other species.
Fruits, vegetables, berries, Christmas trees and nursery products alone account for more than 10 percent of the $11.5 billion in total farm cash receipts North Carolina generates annually.
NCSU embraced as “the obvious choice” for IR-4’s new home
NCSU was the obvious choice for the new headquarters and it received the unanimous approval of IR-4’s Project Management Committee. “Specialty crops are important to North Carolina, and we have many faculty members working on all aspects of crop protection,” said Steve Lommel, Ph.D., associate dean for research at NCSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Science. “Having IR-4 headquartered at the university is a natural fit that will be a win for North Carolina agriculture, NCSU and the project.”
Rich Bonanno, Ph.D., associate dean of extension at CALS, added that many pest management companies reside in North Carolina, which will make collaboration easier and less expensive. “And IR-4’s expertise will be an invaluable addition to N.C. State’s new certificate program in regulatory science,” he added.
Bonanno said NCSU has made a 10-year commitment to host the headquarters, which will eventually move to the university’s Centennial Campus. With it comes a staff of 27 that includes IR-4 leadership, support personnel, and the scientists responsible for grants to the various programs IR-4 supports. Many of those employees will transfer from New Jersey to Raleigh, beginning this fall. The remaining jobs will be filled locally.
IR-4 Executive Director Jerry Baron, Ph.D., who received his doctorate in horticulture from NCSU, will be among the first to relocate. “We’re excited about the opportunity to move to Raleigh and the university,” he said. “North Carolina is a major specialty crops state and it’s just a natural for IR-4 to be there.”
Timing works well to minimize disruption of moving
The timing of the move couldn’t be better, Baron said. A number of employees who joined the program in the early 1990s are currently planning retirements. “We were going to have to find replacements for them anyway,” he added. “That’s incredibility easy to do in North Carolina with its commitment to agriculture, and with the reputation of NC State.”
Scott Johnson, vice president of agriculture sector development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, called the move “a real positive for the university, for North Carolina and for IR-4. The program will move to an ag tech community with more diversity in academic and industry science than anywhere else in the country, and a state with a diversity of specialty crops surpassed only by Florida and California.”
IR-4 has an annual budget of about $20 million, most of which goes to support programs in its four regions across the county. They include the North Central Region, located at Michigan State University; the Northeast, at the University of Maryland; the Western, operating from the University of California; and the Southern, at the University of Florida. The program also conducts research in many of the 50 states.
“It’s a tremendously valuable program, particularly for a state like North Carolina with a wide variety of specialty crops,” Bonanno said. “The idea that we can help IR-4 continue its work is a plus, not just for our state, but also for the specialty crops industry nationwide. Our number-one goal is to make sure this program stays strong for many years to come.”
(C) N.C. Biotech Center