One of every six dollars generated in North Carolina today comes from agriculture.

Rural residents’ contributions of food, fiber, fuel and flowers add not only to the state’s $70 billion ag economy, but preserve a historical way of life as well.

Now the state’s fields and forests are about to become even more prominent.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has hired Gwyn Riddick, director of its Piedmont Triad Office, to a newly created position: Vice-president, Ag/Bio Initiative.

Riddick will help launch an initiative from the Biotechnology Center and partners statewide to grow the state’s agricultural economy to $100 billion during the next 10 years.

“We have a deep history and tremendous assets in agriculture in North Carolina,” said Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Center.

“We identified this opportunity to combine that heritage and our strength in new technology to create wealth across the state of North Carolina, and to improve the quality of life for people around the world.”

Riddick brings more than 40 years of experience to his new post — in education, consumer products, diagnostics, blood products and pharmaceuticals including human and animal vaccines.

"We have hardly begun to tap the natural, renewable resources of agriculture that will benefit mankind,” he said.

“Integrating biotechnology and agriculture is an integral platform for our future, and I am eager to get started."

Before joining the Biotechnology Center six years ago, Riddick was a faculty member of North Carolina State University and served as Guilford County Director of the Cooperative Extension Service. He later directed the economic development and business and industry education programs at Guilford Technical Community College. He was also CEO of his own horticultural company.

He’s starting his new job working with a blueprint developed by more than 100 statewide leaders in agriculture, crop technology and policy, a group called Growing North Carolina’s AgBiotech Landscape. The group was led by former Gov. Jim Hunt and Steven Burke, formerly senior vice president of corporate affairs at the Center and now president and CEO at the Biofuels Center of North Carolina.

The group’s final report outlines actions in six areas:

• Create an agricultural biotechnology advisory committee.

• Catalog and strengthen existing resources and partnerships.

• Coordinate commercialization and application of agricultural biotechnology.

• Develop commercialization opportunities in marine and animal biotechnology.

• Enhance education and public awareness.

• Engage state and community leaders.

Leaders from the many North Carolina organizations that work in agricultural biotechnology will make up the advisory committee. That includes representatives of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, associations of farmers, commodity trade groups, funding agencies, the state’s two land-grant universities and other research entities.

The committee will coordinate implementation of the other five strategies, which seek to apply research to North Carolina’s unique mix of crop, animal and marine resources and make them more useful, marketable and efficient to produce.

“Some of the most important things on all of our minds are food, shelter, fabric and fuel,” said Riddick. “What we have here is an opportunity to play a bigger role to secure these necessities for people around the globe.”

North Carolina has a strong history in agriculture, and its farmers today make a significant impact on the global food and fiber supply. Researchers at the state’s universities and companies are using the tools of biotechnology to develop better plants faster.

It means farmers in dry areas can grow food crops that can thrive on less rain. Some new strains resist disease and pests. And numerous crops now have built-in resistance to herbicides, enabling farmers to fight weeds with less air pollution and related fossil fuel impact.

Soybeans with higher yields and higher oil or protein content give farmers a more valuable crop for the same effort. Consumers see a decrease in their food bill – soy is a growing component of pre-packaged food in the U.S.

These ideas encompass broad-acreage crops as well as specialty crops and trees, and they have long circulated among policy leaders in North Carolina and the world. Now, the state is taking a leadership role to put the building blocks in place and catalyze the partnership activities that will make the ideas a reality.

The committee’s report is available online at http://www.ncbiotech.org. A full list of participants and partners, including the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, is online as well.

When he opened the Piedmont Triad Office, Riddick created a model for the Biotechnology Center’s regional offices. He built collaboration through the Advisory Committee for Biotechnology in the Piedmont Triad, and increased capacity in the region through the Center’s grant and loan programs. The cluster grew to 86 companies during Riddick’s tenure.

The Piedmont Triad region twice hosted the Biotech Conference, the annual celebration of the state’s life science industry, which is sponsored by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, the North Carolina Biosciences Organization and the Center.

The Biotechnology Center is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the North Carolina General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.