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Bertie eyes $5.4 million ag facility

WINDSOR – Bertie County is working with several partners to bring a new $5.4 million facility to the county.

Monday morning, members of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners received an update on a Pilot Extracting Facility which will be located in Merry Hill.

“We have been working very diligently on the Pilot Extracting Facility,” said Bertie County Economic Development Director Steve Biggs. “We received architect renderings last week and we’re working as hard as we can on it. We feel good about it coming to Bertie County.”

Vann Rogerson, president of North Carolina’s Northeast Commission, talked about the past and the future development of the program.

“This centers around the Vernon James Center (located in Roper) and Bio-crops,” Rogerson said.

He explained the facility allows scientists who believe they have found nutrients that would add to a crop’s value to have their theories tested.

“If you’re in a lab and have a prototype with a specific benefit to the body and want to take it out of the lab, you can go to the Vernon James Center and they will grow it,” Rogerson said. “You can then take it to the Pilot Extracting Facility and they will process it and pull out the protein to see if there’s enough value to take it to market.”

According to Rogerson, there are only two such facilities in North America and both have waiting lists for those who would want to use their facility.

The crops that could be tested at the facility include many of those already grown in eastern North Carolina such as tobacco, peanuts and soybeans.

That led to the Tobacco Trust Fund contributing $150,000 toward the facility.

The idea is to get as many grants as possible to allow a partnership to build the facility including the Northeast Commission, Bio-Technology Center, Vernon James Center, North Carolina State University and Bertie County.

“We’re excited about this and we have lots of grants we are working to put in place,” Rogerson said.

There will be two main types of customers for the new facility, Rogerson said. One of them will be companies that are already established and well-financed who are looking for ways to test their products.

The second will be those in a university setting who are simply trying to verify test results they have in a lab.

Rogerson described the plant as a “mini-Avoca Farms” saying things would be done on a much smaller scale. He said the new extraction facility would give Bertie County and northeastern North Carolina a unique niche.

“When you have many farmers who can grow plants with several varieties and expertise for extracting the proteins to verify the results, that is very unique in the world” Rogerson said.

“Will the crops be new or will it be something like peanuts or soybeans,” Bertie County Commissioner J. Wallace Perry asked.

“It could be all of those,” Rogerson answered. “It may be some product that will make those plants better.”

Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr. asked how many jobs would be brought to the county and Rogerson said it could be as many as 20 total jobs.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said if he understood the project correctly, it wasn’t the 20 jobs at the facility that would most benefit the county. Instead, he said, it would be increased work for farmers who were in the county who could grow the crops that needed to be tested.

“The ultimate benefit is we can get local farmers to mass produce the projects,” Harrell said.

Also present was Mark A. Phillips of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center who said the project was worthwhile.

“The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is glad to be part of this,” he said.

After the discussion between Bertie County officials and the visiting partners, the rendering of the facility was officially presented to the Bertie County Commissioners.