Hoeven tours new crop genotyping center

FARGO, N.D. -- A new National Agriculture Genotyping Center on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo will start hiring scientists in three months and will employ six people by the end of 2015.

FARGO, N.D. -- A new National Agriculture Genotyping Center on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo will start hiring scientists in three months and will employ six people by the end of 2015.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., visited the new space for the center at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Fargo on Dec. 23 with Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, which promoted the location's bid for the lab. A dozen skilled positions are projected to be hired by 2016.

The scientists will be housed in leased space at USDA's Agricultural Research Service Biosciences Research Lab on NDSU's campus, and will work on field tests for various crop diseases, among other things. Hoeven said it's important to develop the tests for food safety reasons.

Hoeven said the research done with the new lab, along with other research at NDSU and ARS, are important for the state and region, which leads in the production of about 14 crops. He said improvements are necessary to allow farmers in North Dakota and surrounding states the flexibility to "decide what to grow for the market, and to produce what consumers want."

Public-private partners


The NAGC lab is being supported through a public-private partnership, which includes the National Corn Growers Association. The lab will be connected to the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, as well as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo.

The project is estimated at around $4 million to $5 million.

About $1 million came from the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council; $200,000 from the North Dakota Soybean Council; $100,000 from the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission; $100,000 from the North Dakota Farmers Union and $100,000 from the CHS Foundation.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring included $800,000 as part of his biennial budget. About $2 million in commitments have come in from other states, including Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

In September, Fargo beat out fellow finalist Decatur, Ill., to get the site. The NDSU location is beneficial because of its proximity to the ARS center. The ARS and NDSU together host some 14 public crop breeding programs. NDSU is in the final stages of construction and certification for a BIO Level Security 3 greenhouse lab, which will be used to study high-security crop diseases.

Lilja said the center has a five-year lease with USDA and, after the third year, expects to be making enough income from the tests being developed to become financially neutral.

"The first project is actually a citrus test," Lilja said. "Corn and soybeans have paid-for research so one of the first assays developed will be soybeans. Corn -- down the line."

The NAGC is designed to be for all crops.


"There are a number of crops that don't have the cash flow and this center is being set up so other crops can make use of this technology," Lilja said.

The center scientists hope to create mobile test kits that allow farmers to monitor and detect corn diseases. Current tests allow labs to identify only one or two of about 18 important corn diseases at a time. The kits would allow farmers and agronomists to take leaf samples and identify disease symptoms before humans can see them.

Other tests could be developed for other crops and even animals, with food safety applications.

Related Topics: CROPS
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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