By Dominique Cantelme
From the September/October 2020 Issue
It’s no surprise that this pandemic we’re in the midst of—or, hopefully at the end of—has had a major impact on a number of industries. One that has experienced the good and the bad of it is agribusiness.
Particularly toward the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, people were skeptical about eating food prepared by others, causing severe financial loss for various food establishments. However, this also meant that most of us were doing a lot more grocery shopping for the increase in home-cooked meals. Food sales skyrocketed, in-store as well as online. Unfortunately, not everything was a walk, car-ride or click away.
In addition to the fact that many egg, milk, chicken and meat hoarders were among us (some more guilty than others), the issue of worker shortages due to COVID-19 was also present. Farmers got sick, food processing plant workers got sick and a number of others who contribute to making our food appear on the supermarket shelves got sick. When a large segment of the economy began working from home, the demand for food got greater. Something had to give and it did: the agribusiness and food processing supply chain.
The good news is the that the agribusiness sector is rising to this challenge and that keeping the nation’s essential food supply chain up and running. Read on to learn about locations that can help agribusiness seem effortless.
MARICOPA, AZ HAS A DEEPLY ROOTED CONNECTION TO AGRIBUSINESS
Agriculture in Arizona contributes more than $23 billion to the state’s economy and directly and indirectly supports more than 138,000 full and part-time jobs. Like the State of Arizona, the City of Maricopa’s rich history is deeply rooted in agriculture, with the community’s earliest settlers converting raw desert land into fertile soils for growing cotton, wheat, barley and other crops.
Maricopa is home to a thriving and diverse cluster of agriculture technology businesses and research facilities, including state universities, federal research centers and established and emerging companies utilizing intelligent crop science to produce food and clean technology products.
The USDA Arid Land Agricultural Research Center (ALARC) and the University of Arizona, Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC) are two such facilities. In addition to these distinguished research institutions, Maricopa is home to well-established and successful agriculture firms, such as Arizona Grain, a supplier of high-quality products to customers in the U.S. and throughout the world.
The USDA ALARC is a 20-acre federal research facility whose mission is to develop sustainable agricultural systems, protect natural resources and support rural communities in arid and semi-arid regions through interdisciplinary research. Research topics include crop and soil management, integrated pest management, insect and plant molecular biology, irrigation technology, remote and proximal sensing for crop production and improvement, water reuse, crop breeding and physiology, and resilience to global climate change.
Recent research focus includes using proximal sensing based high-throughput phenotyping to accelerate the development of crops with improved tolerance to heat stress and drought, developing new industrial crops, such as guayule; development and testing of new irrigation technologies for improved water use efficiency; reuse of reclaimed water for agriculture; gene discovery to identify new targets for pest control application; and the development of integrated pest management systems for major pests of cotton and other arid-land crops.
The Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC) is a 2,100-acre research site within the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences for the University of Arizona. MAC’s mission is to develop and deliver innovative solutions to challenges facing Arizona consumers and agricultural producers. Focus areas include food safety, irrigation and water quality, conservation, pest management, precision agriculture, crop phenotyping and breeding. The Center serves as a hub for industry collaboration, and home for many cooperative extension initiatives across the State. Popular outreach programs include Ag-Ventures, Ag-Literacy for all age groups, Maricopa 4-H and Pinal County Master Gardeners.
As example, the development of new field integrated pest management (IPM) solutions at MAC have saved cotton growers in Arizona more than $5 million over the last 22 years. These innovative approaches are now being applied to other U.S. farming regions and in Mexico, Australia and Brazil. Much of the research is conducted collaboratively between ALARC and MAC, along with other federal, state and industry groups.
Arizona Grain, Inc. is a privately held company and a steady supplier of high-quality products to customers both locally and internationally. Arizona Grain drives agricultural efficiency through logistics, market knowledge and superior genetics. With expert staff, Arizona Grain works diligently to provide top-tier offerings for animal feed, seed genetics, cereal grain marketing and food ingredients. In addition, Arizona Grain developed a Quality and Food Safety Assurance Program in response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations within the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
Research facilities, agriculture technology firms and farming operations flourish in Maricopa. Among the many contributing factors for this thriving sector are the city’s abundant land and water resources for crop testing under unique environmental conditions. Agriculture is a careful steward of both the land and the water needed to produce crops. Modern technology helps farmers and ranchers use what they need and no more. Water is conserved and less is applied to the fields through drip and other variable flow methods.
Maricopa has a forward-thinking focus on research in both agribusiness and agriculture technology. For companies seeking a community where business, government, education and citizens care for and value each other and where big city life is a just short drive away, Maricopa, AZ is a pro-business community ideally located for exceptional prospects to thrive.
We invite you to learn more about the unique opportunities for agribusiness and agriculture technology in Maricopa. Visit www.InvestInMaricopaAZ.com or call (520) 424-1216.
[This section was written by Steve Naranjo, Center Director USDA-ARS, Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center; Malcolm Green, Director University of Arizona Maricopa Agricultural Center; and Eric Wilkey, President Arizona Grain, Inc.]
VALDOSTA-LOWNDES COUNTY, GA: CENTRALLY LOCATED FOR GROWTH
Valdosta-Lowndes County, Georgia is a vibrant and premier location for business development opportunities. Located midway between Atlanta and Orlando in the heart of South Georgia, Valdosta-Lowndes County is strategically positioned for businesses to access and serve the global market. We make it easy for small, medium-sized and large companies to establish healthy roots for success. The Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority continues to foster relationships with existing businesses to ensure they grow and prosper.
“Our prime location, along with strong logistics and supply chain network provides a competitive advantage in helping businesses move their products quickly,” said Andrea Schruijer, executive director of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority.
Key industries in Valdosta-Lowndes County include advance manufacturing, distribution and logistics and agribusiness and food processing.
Valdosta-Lowndes County serves as an economic, service, professional, retail, healthcare and tourism hub for a 15- to 18-county region, including South Georgia and North Florida.
With eight industrial parks, Valdosta-Lowndes County, GA has the perfect fit for almost any industry. Each park has its own unique attributes, from rail served for plastics and manufacturing to parks situated near Interstate 75 and just north of Interstate 10 for distribution and service industries. Three of the industrial parks—Bassford Business Park, Miller Business Park and Westside Business Park—are recognized as GRAD sites, Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development.
Valdosta-Lowndes is home to thriving K-12 education systems that continue to provide excellent education opportunities to the county’s future workforce. It is also home to five higher education institutions, including Valdosta State University (VSU) and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.
VSU is home to over 12,500 students and incorporates state of the art technology and a next-generation approach to learning and leading in a global world. Students can earn Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. degrees in more than 90 different programs of study, and while a majority of VSU students are from Georgia, the university’s 2020 enrollment included students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 65 different countries.
Wiregrass Georgia Technical College is one of the nation’s fastest growing public two-year colleges and helps its 6,000 students hit the ground running in a relentless global marketplace. Wiregrass offers a full slate of programs (e.g., Digital Media, Tech and Industry, Business, Professional and Healthcare) while collaborating with local employers in targeted workforce training.
Valdosta-Lowndes County has a favorable business climate, as Georgia is a right to work state; fast-track permitting; competitive warehouse cost; and low property tax rates.
Valdosta-Lowndes County is a great place to do business and the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority (VLCDA) is here to help your business succeed. Whether you are expanding, relocating or just starting up, VLCDA is here to build a groundbreaking community.
To learn more about how your business can thrive in our community, visit www.buildlowndes.com.
WHERE AGRICULTURE MEETS BIOTECH IN HUNTSVILLE, AL
How do we increase yields in biofuel plants to improve their potential? How can we make the crops of tomorrow more resistant to drought? What about rising temperatures? At the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, scientists tackle these and other questions at the forefront of agricultural genomics.
Alongside the research being conducted by the nonprofit research labs, more than 40 bioscience companies have chosen to establish a presence on the campus, taking advantage of proximity to this cutting edge research.
HudsonAlpha is one of the few labs in the world performing original sequencing of plants and animals. In the cases of crop species, such as sorghum, soybean, cotton, citrus, switchgrass and millet, these genomic references form the basis for genomics-enabled crop breeding to increase yields with faster turnaround times from lab to market.
Using Genomic Technology to Create a Diverse Alabama Agricultural Economy
Although agriculture has always played an important role in Alabama’s economy, the number of thriving crops and the genetic diversity of plants available for growers is limited. For example, corn and soybeans grown in Alabama yield two-thirds less product than those grown in Midwestern states.
“Several of the crops that are grown in Alabama were bred for other climates so they do not yield as much as they could elsewhere,” says Josh Clevenger, PhD, the newest member of the plant genomics team. “The soil in south Alabama is really rich and it deserves to be cultivated with crops specifically bred to grow well in Alabama.”
Using HudsonAlpha’s expertise in plant breeding and genetics, along with strong partners in agronomy such as Auburn University and Alabama A&M, they seek to create customized seed varieties designed to grow better in Alabama. For example, they can create crop species that can tolerate fluctuations in temperature, survive with less water or have pathogen and fungus resistance.
The team uses similar techniques that Clevenger has used in his nearly eight years of experience working in peanut breeding and genetics. The researchers evaluate germplasm (seeds) from crops grown in other parts of the country and make hypotheses about which traits need to be improved upon for Alabama. They then target the traits using molecular breeding approaches.
The researchers are using a technique called speed breeding which is essentially exposing the plants to 24 hours of light with no periods of darkness. HudsonAlpha’s campus is home to several grow rooms that are used to facilitate these breeding projects. The speed breeding technique speeds up the life cycle from 140 days to 90 days, saving an average of 50 days with each breeding.
Clevenger and the other members of the plant genomics team hope to bridge the gap between science and nature by more rapidly deploying beneficial crop traits into cultivated crops farmers can plant on their land. The team is working closely with growers, farmers, manufacturers, brewers, restaurateurs and food banks to ensure that they are not only bringing useful crops to the state but also selecting the most important traits for the crops.
“We leverage the world-class genomic technology and world-class faculty that are here at HudsonAlpha to use genomics to identify targets to improve upon crops specifically for production in Alabama,” says Clevenger. “And we do that while maintaining a strong relationship with the growers that are going to be producing these crops, and also the manufacturers so that when we produce something it can be used immediately as a direct output into the economy of Alabama.”
While their initial focus is on improving agriculture in Alabama, the techniques and traits that they identify could have implications on the genetic improvement of crops worldwide.
While researchers like Clevenger often partner with outside collaborators, they can also find a collaborative scientific community in their own backyard. The 152-acre biotech campus of HudsonAlpha is located within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park. HudsonAlpha’s campus is also home to more than 40 biotech companies involved in research, development or production related to the life sciences.
Biotech researchers and companies at HudsonAlpha share meeting rooms and common spaces, IT support, a library and café, all of which foster a culture that feels like a community. During the pandemic, they have continued collaboration with virtual Science on Tap where scientists share recent findings from their basic research and CEOs share research and developments in the early stage of their biotech companies and beyond.
In addition to knowing top scientists, life sciences companies at the HudsonAlpha biotech campus can lease a single workstation, a single lab, a suite of offices or any combination of space within three buildings on campus. Unlike many incubators, HudsonAlpha does not require an equity stake in its resident Associate Companies and also does not aim to graduate them out in order to bring in new companies. Rather, the economic development team at HudsonAlpha works like a mini chamber of commerce for its current tenants to bring them business programming and resources, networking events, and best of all, space to expand as companies need it.
“Incremental growth, allowing biotech companies to scale in place, is a primary benefit of the campus to an early-stage biotech or a small to medium enterprise,” says Amy Sturdivant, the biotech campus director of business recruitment.
The Institute’s 152-acre biotech campus, located in an Opportunity Zone, offers room to grow and access to quality resources, including top talent and a ready workforce, continuous knowledge sharing and funding sources for intellectual property—all in a collaborative community of bioscience enterprises.
GLOUCESTER COUNTY, VA: NATURALLY DIVERSIFIED
Gloucester County, Virginia is strategically located the northeastern portion of Hampton Roads, the largest metropolitan area between DC and Atlanta. The County’s industries have traditionally been associated with the abundant natural resources—primarily seafood—found in the area. With its advantageous location in the geographic center of the Eastern seaboard, the county is experiencing an increased diversification in manufacturing activities.
The state capital is located 59 miles to the west, and Washington D.C. is 153 miles north. The Port of Hampton Roads is 45 miles south. Gloucester is located within the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News Metropolitan Statistical area (MSA).
Gloucester County offers a low cost of doing business, desirable quality of life, state of the art schools, a skilled labor force and affordable housing. The county provides a small business incentive program that includes rent assistance, property improvements, façade improvement, advertising and website development grants to new and existing businesses. In addition, Gloucester is one of 212 Opportunity Zones designated by Governor Northam. The Opportunity Zone offers Federal Tax Credits to new and expanding businesses. Another incentive, is the new Company Incentive Program that provides the benefits of no Virginia corporate income tax on Virginia sales and access to the Commonwealth’s Development Opportunity Fund that provides up to $2,000 per year per new job for six years. Gloucester is one of 60 Virginia localities eligible for this program. The Gloucester County Department of Economic Development is committed to providing these benefits and more to new and expanding businesses.
Agribusiness is one of the county’s top targeted markets for new business recruitment. There are several seafood manufacturing, food processing and forestry facilities in Gloucester, along with a skilled workforce. Gloucester is also home to the renowned Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a major marine research center conducting global research for the blue/green economy.
Whitley’s Peanut Factory has called Gloucester home for the past 30 years. The company has enjoyed the low cost of doing business here in the county and attributes their success to the skilled workforce. In April of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Ms. Bettina Ring announced that Whitley’s Peanut Factory was expanding, creating more jobs and capital investment for the county.
In December 2018, Secretary Ring traveled back to Gloucester to announce Zoll Vineyards, a new farm-to-table winery, was coming to the county. The company plans to use Virginia grow-grapes, honey and apples to produce wines, meads and ciders. The owner, Frank Zoll, plans to offer food parings to winery visitors, featuring meat, fish and produce grown on site.
Over the past year, two new craft breweries have opened providing a variety of ale for the beer lovers. That Damn Mary’s Brewing Company is a restaurant-brewery. The beer is brewed for sale in the restaurant and bar. The beer is dispensed directly from the brewery’s storage tanks. The Gloucester Brewery, located on Main Street, is a small brewery with a hometown atmosphere. The Gloucester Brewery hosts local food trucks nightly for food that pairs well with the different taps of flavored ale. Both breweries are independently owned and operated.
Last year CJ McDonald moved from Los Angeles to Gloucester County and started Under the Stars Farm, where her family grows lavender.
“We absolutely love Gloucester. We have been blessed by the community, and the team at the county has been amazing. When we first launched the concept of the lavender fields the Economic Development team provided us with so many resources and contacts of people that we could quickly grow out network. Networking is a critical component of a successful business. We felt that the lavender fields was a great addition to the agritourism that is present here in Gloucester, and it also gave our community a beautiful place for hosting life celebrations and a place to gather with friends and family.”
Gloucester is pleased to be home to Canon Environmental Technologies, Inc. (CETI). Canon is the world’s largest recycling company. In 1990, Canon introduced a cartridge recycling program through its Clean Earth Campaign Program. CETI carries out zero-landfill waste by reusing parts, recycling materials and employing energy recovery. In 1996, Canon Environmental Technologies, Inc. built a 280,000-square-foot recycling plant in Gloucester. The company employees 150 people.
The county has one business park, Gloucester Business Park, with two remaining parcels ready for development. There are plans to expand the current park by mid-2020. The goal is to have at least two Tier-4 sites prepared for shovel ready tracts over the next 12 months.
Visit www.gloucesterva.info/217/Economic-Development for more information on the community and a data base with available buildings and sites. We invite you to consider Gloucester, a premier agribusiness community, for your next site selection location.
MISSOURI IS A GLOBAL AGTECH LEADER
Missouri is the global leader in agtech. When you’re in an area as conducive to high-quality research and innovation as Missouri, it’s hard to not get the results you’re looking for. Agtech research takes place across the entire state in the state’s innovation communities, growing companies and leading world-class educational institutions. Missouri boasts several exceptional resources to utilize, including: crop and livestock diversity, abundant water supply, rich soil and cutting-edge animal health and plant science clusters.
When you expand or move your agtech or agritech company to the Show-Me state, you increase your chances of achieving your long-term goals. We know how critical it is that the foundation you build your business or research institution on is sound, structured and conducive to success. With more than half of the world’s animal health industry sales represented in the Kansas City region alone, and several more dynamic animal health and plant science clusters operating statewide, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to grow.
World-Leading Innovation With a Local Touch. Why choose Missouri if you’re in the agriculture industry? Maybe it’s because agriculture is an $88 billion industry in Missouri. Maybe it’s because more than 378,000 employees keep the state’s agtech economy brimming with fresh, engaged talent and innovation. It might even be because so much agricultural product is shipped via river barge from the St. Louis region that a 15-mile section of the Mississippi is known as the “Ag Coast of America.” Why wouldn’t you want to work somewhere that puts this much thought, effort and resources into making this industry a world-leader?
It’s Time To Meet Your Future Neighbors. In Missouri, we’re proud that so many leading agtech organizations call our great state, home. With facilities including the Danforth Plant Science Center, Bayer Crop Science, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Yield Lab, Corteva Agriscience, BASF, Bunge North America, KWS, Zoetis, AgriLabs, Boehringer Ingelheim and many more, it’s a no-brainer to make your dream move a reality.
Missouri is also home to the headquarters of Rabo Agrifinance: they provide extensive financing and insurance options for U.S. farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses. And many international companies have established their North American headquarters here.
In Missouri, the future of agtech is happening today. Big data, smart farming, input optimization, precision ag, biologicals, breeding, green chemistry, green pharmaceuticals, intellectual capital, an extensive agtech infrastructure, investors … it’s all growing in the Show-Me state.
GADSDEN-ETOWAH COUNTY, AL: THE PERFECT PLACE TO GROW
Start with hydroponic farming and home-grown herbal teas; move to craft beer and boutique wine; then add one of the world’s largest, most technologically advanced grain storage facilities; and include two major deboning plants and three major cold storage facilities—all strategically placed to utilize a logistically located transportation network comprised of rail, air and highways—and you will understand what makes Gadsden, Alabama the perfect place for the Agriculture Industry to locate.
Etowah County, AL is located along the Norfolk Southern Railway and Interstate Highway 59. Gadsden is an hour northeast of Birmingham, AL and 90 miles southwest of Chattanooga, TN. Etowah County and its county seat Gadsden offer a unique value proposition for those in the agricultural business. Gadsden was founded as an industrial city, but its southern location along the Coosa River and in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain chain provides the fertile soil and long growing season that makes it an ideal location for any agricultural endeavor.
This geographic advantage extends to logistics and transportation. Gadsden is strategically located in the Southeast. These location advantages led The Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to identify food and farming as one of its six targeted industries.
“People may stop driving cars, but they’re not going to stop eating,” said David Hooks, Executive Director of the Gadsden-Etowah IDA. “Agribusiness employs a lot of people, and it’s a heavy generator for our economy, so we’ve added it to our mix for industrial development.”
For generations, Gadsden has maintained a robust agricultural base, which ramped up as the other industries drew down. The region now has 93 agricultural entities, including major poultry operations that employ thousands of workers. In 2019, Koch Foods increased its Alabama footprint with a $55 million grain storage and distribution facility. The property is one of the largest and most technologically advanced facilities of its type in the entire world. Southern Cold Storage of Alabama maintains a 103,000-square-foot cold storage facility in the county, sited on a 90-acre Tyson Foods development, which puts chicken into final packaging and stores poultry until it is shipped all over the world. There are two other cold storage facilities in the county: Americold and Millard Refrigerator Services.
Further, the local workforce is cited as one of the area’s best resources for the agricultural industry. Jacksonville State University, University of Alabama-Gadsden Center and Gadsden State Community College all have agricultural programs from which businesses can draw talent. Recruitment across all business sectors has been bolstered by the Alabama Industrial Development Training Program and the Alabama Technology Network.
The Gadsden-Etowah IDA can help companies locating in the county to coordinate training and incentive programs.
“Ag businesses that provide value-add services get similar incentives to manufacturers,” said Hooks. “There is a combination of incentives and tax exemptions available from state and local governments.”
From large agriculture enterprises to small family producers; the local food-based economy includes numerous local farms, brewers and vineyards that are fluent in the farm-to-table ecosystem that is booming across the country.
Etowah County has the smallest landmass of any county in the State of Alabama. Due to the volume of the agricultural business done in Gadsden and Etowah County, one would anticipate large massive farms with large swaths of acreage; however, the inverse is true—85 percent of the farms are under 200 acres, with 55 percent under 50 acres. This has provided for small family-owned farms to thrive throughout the area. Traditional small family-owned farms, such as the Umphrey’s Farm that grows produce from Arugula to Zucchini, enjoy enormous success bringing their products to market in local restaurants and at the City of Gadsden’s 5th Street Market downtown. Norris Farms grows products similar to Umphrey’s and has a fabulous “pick your own” marketing program that ranges from strawberries in early summer to pumpkins in the fall. The Forgotten Ways Farm focuses on traditional organic methods of farming, specializing in raw milk and grass-fed pastured meats. Owls Hollow Farm has focused on organic hydroponic gardening, and services the farm to table restaurant market within a 60-mile radius, which features several James Beard Award-winning restaurants and chefs.
And then there is that special niche, Distinctive Beverages, that has helped establish Gadsden as a player in the Food and Farming Sector.
Tea Town Alabama provides delicious loose-leaf teas made from simple, homegrown ingredients, paired with other locally grown herbs and fruits, and organically grown teas. Internet marketing has allowed others from all over the world to enjoy their teas.
When Back Forty Beer released its first offering, Naked Pig Pale Ale, the beer was only available in the North-Central Alabama home market, but the response was overwhelming. When Back Forty released their second brew, a national reputation followed—undoubtedly promoted by Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale award of a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Growth for the brand has been effervescent since, allowing Back Forty to expand its coverage throughout Alabama and the Southeast. With the overwhelming support of the Gadsden community, Back Forty distributes beer from California to New York as well as internationally in Canada and China.
While not yet as well-known as its Craft Beer Industry, Etowah County’s Wine Industry is catching up quickly.
Jahn and Janie Coppey established Wills Creek Vineyards in 1996 and opened the Winery in 2001. Jahn grew up in the Rhône valley of Switzerland in a family of vineyard owners and Janie’s family had a history in farming. Planting vineyards on the family’s property was a perfect transition to grow muscadines and produce a variety of muscadine and vinifera wines.
The winery location provides tranquil views of the vineyards, mountains and the natural spring-fed pond. Today the winery produces about 2,000 cases of wine annually that includes muscadine from the vineyard and locally grown fruit wines like blueberry and strawberry. There are flavored grape wines as well as red and white vinifera grape wines.
Another local winery receiving national attention, Maraella Winery offers a wide range of classic varietals with old-growth vines growing deep in the Alabama earth. Each year their harvest brings excitement to the community and they continue to produce wine made from locally grown grapes and fruits, as they continue to introduce traditional viniferous grapes to the south.
Maraella’s vintages continue to win awards. The 2010 Vintage was awarded Gold and Silver medals from Alabama to California. Their Cabernet Sauvignons and Rieslings have won Gold and Silver medals in competitions in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The agriculture industry in Gadsden and Etowah County runs the gamut. Large food producers are some of the largest drivers of the local economy, and they continue to locate in Gadsden for good reason. Relationships with small farmers are woven deep into the fabric of the community where week after week you stop by the open-air local farmers market in the heart of Downtown Gadsden to buy a sun-ripened tomato from the farmer who picked it that morning. In Gadsden and Etowah, caring about food and farming aren’t just jobs or industry, but a way of life.
For more information on doing business in Etowah County, email David Hooks, Executive Director of the Gadsden-Etowah IDA, at [email protected].
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