North Carolina’s AgTech Sector

Research Triangle Region


North Carolina

Ten million people now call North Carolina home, making it the ninth most populated state in the U.S. Strategically located on the East Coast, North Carolina is half way between New York and Miami. The state’s economy was built on Agriculture, Furniture, and Textiles. And today, Agriculture remains the state’s #1 industry, contributing over $90 billion last year to the NC economy. But industries such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, information technology, financial services and aerospace now also have important positions in the state’s growth.

The Research Triangle Region

The Research Triangle Region is comprised of 10 counties, two million residents, 10 college and universities, seven community colleges, 176,000 annual students and 46,000 annual graduates. Three Tier-1 research universities are located in the Triangle Region: Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. These universities help attract nearly $3 billion in federal R&D funding each year and have spun off hundreds of start-up companies. Forty-nine percent of the area’s urban residents have a bachelor’s degree and Research Triangle also has one of the highest concentrations of PhD’s in the country, making it one of the highest educated regions in the United States. Click here for a more comprehensive report on the region.

The Research Triangle Park

At the epicenter of the Research Triangle Region sits the Research Triangle Park (RTP.) Created in 1959, RTP is the largest and one of the most prominent research parks in the United States. 55,000 employees and more than 250 companies, government agencies, and non-profits call the RTP home, including Cisco Systems, IBM, IQVIA, The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. BASF, Bayer Crop Sciences and Syngenta employ more than 1,000 employees in the region, and international companies including Novozymes have their North American headquarters nearby. The RTP was strategically situated between the three Tier-1 research universities and many graduates from these universities go on to work in the RTP.

Connect with NC’s Research Triangle Region

The Research Triangle Region is strong in plant sciences, seeks growth in the areas of sustainability, soil science and indoor farming and offers venture capital, a wealth of knowledge workers and a collaborative spirit.

To read about the region’s agtech cluster, click here.

To see a list of major agtech companies in the Research Triangle area, click here.

Strengths: Plant Sciences

NC Department of Agriculture

Agriculture research in North Carolina dates back to 1877, when state legislation established the North Carolina Department of Agriculture along with “Experiment Stations” as a division of the department. Since that time, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (NCDA&CS) Research Stations Division, in partnership with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University and School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at NC A&T State University, have established 18 statewide locations.

Each facility has unique climate and soil conditions, giving researchers a living laboratory in which to investigate a variety of regional crops, forestry concerns, livestock, poultry, and aquaculture. The Division supports these studies by providing land, water, equipment, buildings, and staff who work around the clock to help build a stronger foundation for the future of agriculture.

NC State University

N.C. State’s Plant Sciences Building, completion expected in 2021

In September 2019, North Carolina State University broke ground on their new $160 million state-of-the-art Plant Science Building, located on NC State’s Centennial Campus. This new plant science initiative is a multi-disciplinary   program that was created specifically to tackle issues involving plants. The PSI will focus on enhancing yield while lessoning the time from planting to harvest. The building is expected to be complete in 2021.

NC State Plant Science research focuses on three main areas:

  • Plant improvement – For more than 130 years, NC State University has focused on agriculture — the underlying genetics and plant breeding, the soil and root system, water and nutrient delivery, crop protection methods and plant physiology. Today’s research ranges from gene editing to crop protection to digital agriculture.

  • Data-driven plant science – Researchers seek to understand the effects of single and multiple genes on plants to improve the viability of crops. Research includes
    • Data mining and algorithm development for heterogeneous data;
    • Sensor technology for basic research and field applications;
    • Heterogeneous data integration for improved breeding and genomic strategies;
    • Prototyping systems and translating results to crop production and utilization.
  • Resilient Agricultural Platforms – Researchers are creating crops that adapt to environmental shifts, climate change, pests and pathogens.  They’re also studying logistics, delivery systems and food economics, and collaborating with partners across disciplines on other plant products, like fiber and biofuels. North Carolina is located in a transition zone and faces diverse agronomic conditions. As a result, the region can study many different crop profiles that mimic soil and climatic conditions from around the world.

Research Triangle Region Seeks Sustainability Expertise

The 2019 educational visit to Belgium and The Netherlands is an opportunity to learn more about the important work being done in soil sciences and sustainability. Also, Dutch and Belgian experience and knowledge of indoor farming could assist RTP research into crop adaptation, especially given changing weather patterns.

Research Triangle Region Offers Great Opportunity

Regional Start-Up Culture

Because of the major presence of Life Science companies, Contract Research Organizations, and  “Big Ag” as well as the high concentration of engineering and biology curriculum in the region, a strong agtech ecosystem is growing and thriving in the Research Triangle Region. Alexandria Real Estate recently opened the doors to their new agtech incubator Launch Labs, and are already at 100% capacity. As a matter of fact, the region has more than 200 agtech companies in the plant tech and animal tech space, and there are more than 15 different funding streams to access capital in the region. (159 deals were done in the Triangle in 2018 worth $2.5 billion.)

Knowledge Workers

The Triangle Region is home to three Tier-1 research universities –  North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Duke University in Durham and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – and was ranked by Forbes as the second most educated city in the country. These universities help attract nearly $3 billion in federal R&D funding each year and have spun off hundreds of start-up companies. Forty-nine percent of the area’s urban residents have a bachelor’s degree and Research Triangle also has one of the highest concentrations of PhD’s in the country, making it one of the highest educated regions in the United States.

Building Global Partnerships

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership is interested in expanding its network globally which will allow for future collaboration and partnership opportunities.  NC State in 2018 created a collaborative partnership with VIB in Ghent, the most recent of its 175 collaborations with international institutions, involving almost 200 faculty members.