Decatur finalist for national agriculture research facility

2014-07-17T00:01:00Z Decatur finalist for national agriculture research facilityCHRIS LUSVARDI H&R Staff Writer Herald-Review.com
July 17, 2014 12:01 am  • 

DECATUR – The National Corn Growers Association wants to support and develop research that will provide benefits throughout the agriculture industry.

To aid in those efforts, it is leading plans to create a research facility as part of the National Agriculture Genotyping Center. Decatur is in the running to be the site for the facility, as it was announced Wednesday as one of two finalists for the project, said Richard Vierling, the head of the Corn Growers research and development team.

The other finalist is Fargo, N.D., Vierling said. Being the site of the project could provide a boost to local economic development efforts, he said.

“We hope it grows as it goes,” Vierling said. “It could bring millions of dollars into a given economy.”

If Decatur is chosen, the center would be on the Richland Community College campus, said Doug Brauer, Richland's vice president of economic development and innovative solutions.

A Tier 1 laboratory would be created within the Andreas Agribusiness Center with plans to eventually move the space to the Agribusiness Applied Technology Park in the northwest corner of campus, Brauer said.

“We're in the middle of the Corn Belt,” Brauer said. “We're in position as an ideal location for the genotyping center to serve the entire United States and then ultimately the world as it reaches out and expands. The structure is in place where they can come in fairly quickly.”

Site visits are expected to be scheduled and completed in August with a decision soon following, Vierling said. After the final location is selected, the facility could be up and running by early next year, he said.

“We want to get it done in a timely manner,” Vierling said. “We're pushing as fast as we can while making it an equal process for the applicants.”

The genotyping center's mission is to translate scientific discoveries into solutions for production agriculture, food safety, functional foods, bioenergy and national security.

The facility is intended to aid in the development of new agricultural technology and bring enhanced products to the market, Vierling said. A primary focus will be on testing corn for diseases. Part of the goal is to create a more competitive business environment in terms of product development, he said.

“We need that competition in the marketplace,” Vierling said.

The testing the center plans to conduct will be applicable throughout agriculture, including development of applications involving other crops besides corn and animals, Vierling said.

“The impact is far reaching,” Brauer said. “It will require a highly skilled work force to deal with biotechnology.”

The National Agricultural Genotyping Center is supported through a public and private partnership involving the Corn Growers, Los Alamos National Lab and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The finalists were selected earlier this week during a meeting in Washington, D.C., based on groups that had submitted proposals by July 1, Vierling said.

He said the proposals were judged on nine criteria and the two finalists were well-rounded and show strength related to the criteria being sought.

The criteria includes the proximity to agricultural companies and local support, Vierling said.

“One of the main things is the overall support for the project in a given area,” Vierling said.

Other partners in submitting the proposal and voicing their support for Decatur included the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, city of Decatur, Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, Millikin University, businesses including Archer Daniels Midland Co. and EPL Bioanalytical Services, state and national lawmakers and the state of Illinois, including the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“If the center were to come to Decatur, it would not only be a capstone for Richland, but I could see it opening up great opportunities for the agricultural community," said Bruce Campbell, Richland board of trustees chairman.

ADM Chairman and CEO Patricia Woertz wrote a letter in support of the project, saying the company would be willing to collaborate with the center's researchers.

“Locating the NAGC near our Research Center will offer exceptional opportunities for interaction and innovation between the two technical staffs,” Woertz said. “Already, ADM partners with leading U.S. and China agricultural research universities pursuing a variety of innovations with the potential to help address changing diets and maximize the value of every seed, kernel and stalk.”

Decatur was selected as the permanent rotating site of the Farm Progress Show for reasons similar to what the National Corn Growers coalition is considering, said Matt Jungmann, national events manager for Penton Farm Progress Co., in a letter of support for the project. The Farm Progress Show has been held in Decatur every other year since 2005.

“We have found the community and the college to be great partners for the event,” Jungmann said. “Should this location be selected, you will find it to be a great decision and one you will not regret, which is the same as we have experienced.”

Brauer said the Decatur group is still working on finalizing financial incentives for the project. The local group is planning to work with the governor's office to provide state financial support for the project, said Lisa Gregory, Richland chief of staff.

“We want them to be successful and grow,” Brauer said. “We want to grow to become where we are truly the center point of the biotech industry. We're looking toward real growth and real opportunities that will develop jobs.”

The North Dakota bid has the support of the state's congressional delegation. The North Dakota Corn Growers Association is bidding to host the facility on the campus of North Dakota State University.

The North Dakota lawmakers wrote a letter last month to the National Corn Growers Association to explain why their state should be chosen for the research facility.

The Illinois application includes letters of support from several state and national lawmakers

​Staff Writer Rachel Rodgers contributed to this report.; clusvardi@herald-review.com|(217) 421-7972

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