“Broccoli is one of our most promising crops in terms of its value to human health. We are looking at a number of naturally occurring compounds in broccoli that we can alter to make it taste better,” he says.

Janet Reed, associate director of environmental science at Cotton Incorporated, told the audience about advances in developing edible cotton. Adding more value to cotton makes it more valuable to farmers and to the rural economy of North Carolina and other states, she stresses.

David Peele, president of Avoca Inc, shared the amazing development and growth of Clary sage. Extracts from this crop is used as a binder in the $10 billion fragrance industry.

Peele, who helped bring production of Clary sage to eastern North Carolina, says the demand for increasing acreage in Clary sage may not be significant enough to change the face of the rural economy, but it is a good example of how a specialized crop can change the economy of a small county, like Forsyth County, N.C.

SoyMeds is a North Carolina-based company that uses biotechnology to convert soybean seeds into a number of medical products. Ken Bost, Chief Scientific Officer for the company says their goal is to use technology to help save Americans from the high cost of healthcare proteins — a $200 billion per year industry.

Soybean seeds, Bost says, is an ideal source for biomeds because each seed contains approximately 40 percent protein. This provides for millions of doses per greenhouse acre and eliminates the need for long-term cold storage and purification of protein.

Medical products produced from soybean seed, he says, could cost less than a cent per dose to produce and could be an ideal green industry for any rural economy.

In addition to the statewide meetings, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center recently announced the formation of a 21-member advisory council, made up of farmers and agribusiness leaders to bring cellular science to the soil.

The Advisory Council connects farmers and crop specialists, corporate executives, researchers, economic development experts and policy professionals.

“We’re truly fortunate to have this level of leadership coming together to help guide the future of North Carolina’s $74-billion-a-year agricultural inheritance,” says Tolson.