Syngenta showcases new RTP greenhouse, lab facility

May. 17, 2013 @ 09:55 PM

Wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes, political officials and others toured Syngenta Biotechnology’s new $72 million greenhouse and laboratory facility in the Research Triangle Park on Friday where corn and other crops are already growing to test the facility’s plant growing conditions.
The facility is the latest development project for the company in the park, where Switzerland-based Syngenta has its global headquarters for plant biotechnology. The company works to develop genetic traits for corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops to help farmers increase crop yields, fight drought, or protect against insects.
“Everyone says they have a state-of-the-art facility, but talk is cheap,” said Bill Hlavac, head of site operations for Syngenta Biotechnology in an interview at the facility unveiling on Friday. Hlavac said he’s often asked about the facility’s price tag.
He said its features include glass designed to allow more light to pass through and to allow even light distribution. He said they are also able to precisely control distribution of nutrients and water to plants and other conditions.
In addition, he said the facility is completely air conditioned, Hlavac said. That allows for greater temperature control, he said, adding that they might mimic conditions in one room of a region in Brazil in one part of the greenhouse, and from another part of the world in the next.
The facility opened in February, said Nic Bate, Syngenta Biotechnology’s group leader for agronomic traits, and now workers are growing plants to test facility growing conditions before research gets under way inside. Construction first began in 2011.
Friday’s tour included a look at labs designed for taking samples from plants or for transplanting seedlings into standard containers.
Syngenta staff also showed off examples in the greenhouse of hybrid corn grown with one of the company’s genetic technologies that’s designed to make plants more tolerant to drought.
Syngenta has about 90 research projects running simultaneously in the park, Hlavac said.
Bate said staff is working on trying to develop genetic traits in plants including corn, soy beans, sugar cane and other crops for tolerance to weed killers, for resistance to insects and drought, and to boost crop yields.
They have workers here discovering and testing those traits, as well as working on the regulatory and safety approval needs for the products, Bate said.
Fifteen people are working in the new facility. In total, the company has about 400 people here.
Hlavac said the new facility is on 50 acres that’s across the road from the company’s existing main biotechnology site.
The company has developed plans for a second development phase that would include laboratory and office space.
Hlavac said company officials would like to have the company all together on one site, but they don’t have approval for a second phase of development.
Hlavac said they’ve developed plans to allow officials to pitch an expansion to their corporate colleagues in Switzerland.
He added that the Research Triangle Park has become a hub for agricultural biotechnology companies. Alongside Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and Monsanto also have operations here.
In addition, the German chemical company BASF moved its plant science division to the park where it’s working on developing genetic traits.
“It’s turning into a Silicon Valley for agricultural biotechnology, but doesn’t suffer from the same drawbacks,” Hlavac said of the Research Triangle Park, which he said has access to worker talent, a wider acceptance of the genetically modified crops, and a more favorable regulatory environment.
During a ceremony at Friday’s unveiling, Gov. Pat McCrory said the state’s agriculture sector as well as its agricultural biotechnology industry can help improve North Carolina’s economy.
He was one of several political leaders to attend or speak at the event Friday alongside U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.
McCrory described the work of companies like Syngenta as entrepreneurial, requiring risks as well as capital investment and research without a fixed outcome.
“That’s the entrepreneurial spirit of our country and state,” he said.