Pioneer Hi-Bred opened its new $40-million plant genetics research facility today in Johnston. Pioneer vice president John Soper oversees crop research and genetics development for the company.

Soper says the new facility will focus on two things. “One is the utilization of molecular marker technologies. And to describe that in a nutshell,  it’s a lot like science they use in forensics were they go to the crime scene and they try to match the blood sample with the perpetrator of the crime,” he explains.

“We’re actually able to genetically profile literally millions of corn hybrids or soybean varieties and look at the traits that those plants would possess.” The other focus of the facility is “biotechnology trait development,” which continues and expands on the ongoing research.

“For things like herbicide, new sources of insect resistance. Longer term, looking at things like trying to make corn hybrids that will be more tolerant to drought stress, corn hybrids that can yield the same with lower levels of nitrogen inputs,” Soper says. The new facility will eventually have 400 new employees.

“It’s very complex and very wide, and it’s cutting edge technology. A great facility, but it’s also a place where we not only are providing jobs for Iowans, but we are also attracting top scientists from around the world to come and work at our facility there,” Soper says. Soper says the company is putting more money into research to improve seeds because the demand for food is projected to continue to grow.

“It’s been estimated because we are not going to put a lot more global land into agricultural production that we’re going to have to increase our productivity per acre by 70-percent between now and 2050. And the way that you do that is you invest in plant breeding and you invest to protect the crop against diseases and pests that try to reduce that productivity,” according to Soper.

DuPont, the parent company of Pioneer, says it will invest $10-billion globally in research and development dedicated to the food, agriculture and nutrition sectors by the end of 2020 as part of its targeted food security goals.