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VOL. 128 | NO. 65 | Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Agriculture Boom Fuels Agricenter Expansions

By Andy Meek

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Agriculture is a promising business, especially considering the rapidly growing worldwide demand for food and fiber products by a ballooning international population.

That’s the backdrop for construction that’s set to begin soon on a state-of-the-art greenhouse and research laboratory at Agricenter International.

Bayer CropScience and Helena Chemical are making investments totaling almost $20 million in their respective facilities at the East Memphis center, which is the world’s largest urban farm and research facility.

It’s another major step forward for Agricenter, where about 30 businesses have offices, most of which focus on conducting research on cotton, soybeans and other crops grown on the Shelby County-owned land.

Executives from Bayer CropScience and Helena Chemical were on hand at the Agricenter Monday, April 1, to give a sneak peek at the plans for both facilities. Officials on hand for the announcement included Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

The Bayer and Helena investments are not requiring public funding, and they put Agricenter even further along toward becoming a major agribusiness hub, with extensive infrastructure to support the activity there.

Bayer is building a $17 million greenhouse, which is expected to be finished early next year. It will feature 40,000 square feet of growing space, and by incorporating automation into the design, the greenhouse will result in a 40 percent reduction annually in natural gas and electricity consumption.

Bayer has leased space from Agricenter since 1992. It’s the leading cottonseed company globally, and once finished, its Memphis greenhouse will allow the company to increase the number of traits for cotton varieties in U.S. and global markets.

Al Balducchi, who oversees the Memphis site for Bayer, said the expanded facility “will be unique in its scale and global reach.”

“As a result, we will improve our ability to provide new technologies that will propel farming’s future and give growers more choices,” said Mike Gilbert, Bayer’s head of global breeding and trait development.

Helena, meanwhile, is planning a $2.2 million expansion of its Agricenter presence. The primary expansion will be the addition of an 8,500-square-foot lab used for product development and testing.

The company has 33 employees at the facility and expects to add 20 more by 2017.

Helena also is adding a 2,500-square-foot storage building. The two new buildings will be built on a 1.5-acre parcel that Helena recently leased.

The existing lab and two large rooms used for training will be turned into additional office space. A new training facility will be built in the area now used for shipping and storage.

Among other changes, the current parking lot will be resurfaced, there will be fresh paint for the entire facility and additional landscaping.

Collierville-based Helena Chemical is a national distributor of crop production inputs. It has had facilities at Agricenter for almost 20 years.

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