Soybean seed for amazing medical breakthroughs and Clary sage — to meet the demands of the $10 billion fragrance industry — were just two biotech options discussed at two meetings held in eastern North Carolina in December.

Titled, “AgBiotech Opportunities for Farmers and Growers,” the meetings held in Plymouth and in Sampson County, N.C., opened the eyes of hundreds of farmers as to the opportunities for biotech in agriculture.

What is biotechnology? Technically, it is a toolbox in living cells and molecules used to make products that solve problems.

Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, says he defines biotechnology in a much more simplistic way in which his farm upbringing shows through. “To me biotechnology is $30 an hour and plenty of jobs,” Tolson says.

At a time when the country was mired in a recession and unemployment topped 10 percent in many Southeastern states, jobs in biotechnology in North Carolina increased by 6.3 percent. Jobs in the biotechnology world in North Carolina pay an average of about $30 per hour, he explains.

“When we get into what biotechnology can do and will do for agriculture in North Carolina, we believe the same level of employment opportunities and high paying jobs will be available throughout the rural areas of our state,” Tolson adds.

North Carolina’s agriculture farm-gate is currently valued at $74 million. Over the next decade Tolson says the Biotechnology Center is to grow the state’s agriculture industry by $30 million a year.

“Our No. 1 goal is to grow jobs. If we grow jobs, we grow small companies into big companies. The agriculture sector and biotechnology jobs in rural areas of the state can be a tremendous economic shot-in-the-arm to our rural economy,” Tolson says.

Speaking at the Plymouth meeting, North Carolina State University Corn Specialist Ronnie Heiniger stressed that agriculture is at a turning point. “The era of petrochemicals is dying. The age of biotechnology is replacing fossil fuel-based products,” he said.