Innovation Station

The Syngenta Advanced Crop Lab provides researchers with high-tech tools to develop tomorrow's crop solutions.
Innovation Station
Imagine a place where Midwestern corn grows in one room while Brazilian soybeans and Chinese rice grow next door. Or where only a wall separates desert-like drought conditions from a cool, steady rain.

The new $72 million Advanced Crop Lab at the Syngenta Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park (RTP), N.C., is that place. With more than 40 different growth environments, the facility enables Syngenta researchers to develop and test its broad portfolio of crops and breakthrough traits across a wide range of field conditions at one central location.

"What stands out to me is the capability the Crop Lab gives us to grow crops in diverse climates and environmental conditions because that's what farmers live every day," says Roy Gorena, a Syngenta sales representative from eastern North Carolina. "The ability to grow crops in any type of environment without having to wait for a growing season is impressive. You can create those microclimates inside the facility, which will help separate the winning technologies from the losers."

R&D Strong

Some of the world's best scientists are working tirelessly at the Advanced Crop Lab to devise grower solutions for drought tolerance, insect resistance, weed management and breakthrough yield.

Syngenta established the first agricultural biotechnology research facility in RTP in 1984. Almost 30 years later, the company continues to be a global leader in agricultural research and development. In 2012, Syngenta invested more than $1.25 billion globally in R&D on best-in-industry technologies aimed at tackling some of agriculture's most pressing challenges, including optimizing water use, reducing pest pressure and enhancing plant response to environmental stresses.

The 136,000-square-foot Advanced Crop Lab serves as the testing ground for many new crop enhancements. Corn, soybeans, sugar cane, rice, cereals, vegetables and sunflowers are just a sampling of crops in which Syngenta is focusing its next-generation research. Syngenta scientists at the Advanced Crop Lab will play pivotal roles in making sure these technologies are available to growers across the country and around the world.

Better Control, Better Results

Operating such complex systems has its challenges. The Advanced Crop Lab team is creating brand-new systems and protocols for operating such a facility. But the results for customers will make all the effort worthwhile, says Hua-Ping Zhou, Ph.D., Syngenta global group leader for biotech greenhouses.

"With these updated capabilities, we have infinitely better control over research conditions, and we can deliver whatever we want to the plants," he says.

Zhou cites the company's leading water-optimization technology as an example. "When we launched Agrisure Artesian® technology in 2012, we knew those hybrids had better performance under drought conditions and equivalent performance when there was no drought stress," he says. "But we couldn't simulate the various abiotic stresses that the corn plants could experience in differing regions throughout the season."

With the Advanced Crop Lab, they can. "We can characterize the material under various environmental conditions, which we couldn't do in the past," he says. "The knowledge we have learned so far will enable us to develop similar products faster and better in the future because we have a clearer understanding of what drought tolerance is and which factors impact it the most."

Real Farm Benefits

In the end, Syngenta is confident that the new products tested and developed at the Advanced Crop Lab will be more relevant to growers in the field. That confidence is based on laser-sharp precision research, more predictable results and increased levels of reproducibility.

The innovative technologies at the Advanced Crop Lab make it possible for Zhou and other Syngenta scientists there to think like growers and act on their research as growers would. Ultimately, their work will bring better solutions to farms, and that's particularly good news for growers, Gorena notes.

"When I think of our purpose, 'Bringing plant potential to life,' we are doing that more quickly and in more ways than ever before," he says. "This new facility will help us find the best traits to bring to farmers around the world so they can do what they do best."