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Research center aims to benefit local farmers

Champaign business shows high-tech jobs of the future, supporters say.

Area farmers and elected officials got an up-close look Thursday at a $1.8 million research facility that officials said points to the high-tech jobs agriculture can provide for the region.

In December last year, DuPont/Pioneer opened its 25,000 square foot facility, which is used to study how several varieties of corn and soybean seed react with soil in Ohio. The center, at the corner of U.S. 36 and Ludlow Road in Urbana, is one of about 30 corn research facilities the company operates across the United States, said Dave Miller, a research director for the company.

The site provides about 8 full-time jobs year-round, as well as positions for interns and a handful of part-time employees throughout the growing season. The company evaluates hundreds of varieties of seeds before they go on the market, narrowing them down to try to find the best matches for the soil and weather conditions that are available throughout the region, said Joe Stull, a senior research associate for the company.

Researchers are typically looking at products that are between two and six years from commercial use, Stull said.

The facility is important for Champaign County because it provides the kind of high-tech jobs that are becoming increasingly important in agriculture, said Steve Hess, Champaign County commissioner.

Several local officials also pointed to the Global Impact STEM Academy that began serving about 50 area high school students earlier this week. The school, the first of its kind in the state, offers students hands-on training in fields such as bio-science and agriculture for college credit.

Hess pointed to the proximity to several major markets, as well as good water and soil conditions, as reasons Champaign County is a good location for the facility.

“It just seems like a great mix and a great partnership, and we’re happy to have Pioneer locate here in Champaign County,” Hess said.

The long-term goal of the site is to benefit farmers throughout Ohio, by helping them increase productivity and meet an increasing need for grain and other products as demand increased worldwide, Miller said.

The company relocated to Urbana after previously operating a temporary site in Plain City, Ohio. Although the research facility is located in Urbana, the company operates and monitors about 100 acres throughout the state, as well as a soybean research facility in Napoleon. The sites stretch as far north as Napoleon and as far south as Washington Courthouse. Aside from a small demonstration plot outside the facility, it also tests its products on a roughly four-acre lot in Urbana. Its largest farm site is a roughly 26-acre plot of land near Tremont City, Stull said.

The various plots allow employees to test products in a variety of soil and weather conditions, and determine which products will work best for farmers throughout various regions of the state.

“You can test stuff out in Indiana but this allows for more localized testing,” Stull said.

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