Home Local News Pioneer opens PR’s first bioagriculture R&D lab
Issued : Wednesday, June 15, 2011 09:15 PM
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Pioneer opens PR’s first bioagriculture R&D lab

By : KEVIN MEAD

Pioneer Hi-Bred Puerto Rico Inc. cut the ribbon Wednesday on the island’s first bioagriculture research & development (R&D) laboratory.

The company’s investment in the Salinas facility totaled $6 million — $2.5 million to remodel a 22,000-square-foot facility into a laboratory and $3.5 million for machinery and equipment — and is expected to create some 100 skilled jobs in the agronomy field.

These new positions include both lab and related positions. Company officials said 40 jobs have been created and the remaining 60 will be added over the next 18 months.

The new research laboratory adds to the island’s thriving bioagriculture cluster. It will focus on marker technologies used to discover, characterize and commercialize traits and seed varieties —including corn, soy, sorghum and sunflower— that are resistant to plagues and require less pesticides and herbicides.

“This lab will allow us to select genetically-superior materials for farmers in the U.S. and the entire world,” said Geoff Grah, Pioneer Hi-Bred research director for the Americas.

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) and Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont subsidiary, announced in May 2010 the plans to establish the second Pioneer research & development center in Salinas. The company joins more than 100 Pioneer research centers operating around the world.

Puerto Rico has a strong life-science cluster with 52 pharmaceutical facilities, 49 medical device companies, and more than $4 billion invested in manufacturing facilities by biotechnology companies since 2003.

“Puerto Rico is an ideal place for bioagricultural research,” Gov. Luis Fortuño said during the Pioneer Hi-Bred inauguration on Wednesday. “The island boasts a regulatory framework aligned with the U.S., an efficient transportation system, a longer growing season suitable for planting crops year-round, novel economic incentives, and a highly-educated workforce.”

Pioneer Hi-Bred Puerto Rico set up the R&D laboratory with the help of island government allocations of $600,000 for infrastructure and $400,000 for training.

Pioneer Hi-Bred has been doing business in Salinas since 1989. At present, it employs about 130 permanent workers and another 1,000 temporary workers during the growing season.

The governor said Pioneer Hi-Bred represents a direct economic impact in Puerto Rico of some $8.8 million annually in the purchase of goods and services including raw materials, professional and technical service, and transportation.

The new lab should boost that impact by 15 percent, he said.

“With this new lab Puerto Rico gains ground as an important global bioagriculture research center,” Fortuño said. “It opens new opportunities for investment and job creation in this emerging sector.”

Last month AgReliant Genetics LLC inaugurated an estimated $800,000 hybrid-corn-development station in Corozal. The 20-acre farm is the company’s second on the island. AgReliant Genetics also has a station in Santa Isabel, where it produces corn, sorghum and sunflower seeds for U.S. mainland farmers.

At the inauguration, Tom Koch, AgReliant Genetics vice president of research, pointed out that company researchers can reach Puerto Rico from any of its 13 stations in the U.S. corn belt by air in four hours, as compared to the travel time to and from similar biotech stations located in Hawaii and South America.

John Soper, Pioneer’s senior research director, said Puerto Rico was a smart choice for many reasons, noting the regulatory environment and year-round growing season.

“Equally important was the human-resource talent we can find on the island,” Soper said. “The University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez is a top agricultural school that turns out a steady stream of qualified scientists and agronomists.”

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