A groundbreaking for the U.S. 70 West Industrial Park's newest tenant was held Wednesday, as state, local and company leaders celebrated construction of a Pioneer Hi-Bred crop research center.
"Pioneer Hi-Bred is joining an impressive list of companies that call Kinston home," NC Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco stated. "The research they will be doing at this facility will directly benefit agribusiness, which plays such a significant role in the economic development of Lenoir County and North Carolina."
The Iowa-based agricultural firm, a subsidiary of DuPont, will spend $2.3 million to build a 26,000 square foot facility on 6 acres off Enterprise Boulevard. A temporary research facility was established in the DuPont plant off N.C. 11 North in 2009.
The permanent research center will count Select Food Service, Smithfield and Sanderson Farms among its industrial neighbors.
"It's a very dependable testing site to characterize our products," said Terry Colbert, research director for Pioneer's Southern Business Unit.
About 10 people will be employed there full-time, conducting research on corn and soybean seeds that can thrive in the varied soil conditions of the Carolinas. Construction is expected to be complete by the fall.
"The eastern part of North Carolina has traditionally relied heavily on farming, and so this opportunity creates a promising fusion of the state's past and future," Tate Johnson, Gov. Bev Perdue's representative for Eastern North Carolina and a Lenoir County native, stated.
The Kinston facility will be Pioneer's first research center in North or South Carolina; other centers serving southeastern growers are in Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. Pioneer has also operated a seed production facility in Laurinburg since 1964.
Darren Armstrong of the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina attended the groundbreaking Wednesday. He said agricultural research such as that conducted by Pioneer has been critical to keeping the U.S. corn crop competitive in the face of adverse weather conditions and loss of farmland to development.
"Increasing yield is the reason we've been able to stay here and be competitive," he said of American growers. "What Saudi Arabia is to oil, we are to corn."
Armstrong said farmers over the years have gone from planting 24,000 corn plants per acre to 40,000 per acre.
While most of the corn grown in the U.S. comes from the Midwest, that region has been inundated with floods this year. Armstrong said southeastern growers must "step up" to fill the gap -- the worldwide corn supply is expected to come with only a 14-day surplus once the current growing year ends.
That will be no easy task for farmers in the South, as the region has been hit with heat and dry weather this spring. Research centers such as Pioneer's Kinston facility will need to develop drought-resistant breeds of corn and soybeans for future seasons.
"The more efficient that plant can be at using the water, the more productive that plant's going to be," Armstrong explained.