Sep 9, 2021
First North Carolina PSI director is globally recognized ag leader

Adrian Percy, one of the world’s top leaders in the agriculture field, is set to become the first executive director of the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative, a world-class research and innovation effort that is poised to solve some of the world’s grandest agricultural issues and advance the state’s economy.

On Nov. 1, Percy will begin leading the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI), which uses interdisciplinary, team-based research to address major challenges intersecting agriculture and society, such as making the world’s dwindling farmland acreage more productive to feed a rapidly growing population – and developing new varieties, technologies, and practices that help growers adapt to droughts, pests, flooding, and other effects of climate change.

Adrian Percy

“North Carolina State is so fortunate to have recruited Dr. Adrian Percy – one of the most recognized agricultural leaders in the world – as the inaugural Executive Director of the N.C. PSI,” Richard Linton, dean of NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), said in a news release.“Adrian has a keen understanding of the strategies needed to promote agricultural innovation and a dedicated interest to translate this scientific information to farmers and the agricultural industry. Our college and university look forward to working with him to solidify North Carolina and NC State as the global hub for plant science innovation.”

Percy, who will be leaving his position as Chief Technology Officer at UPL, one of the world’s largest agrochemical companies, says he was drawn to N.C. PSI for its strong potential to positively impact agriculture and society.

“I have always sought opportunities to be part of transformational change in the food and agricultural sector, and this initiative certainly qualifies,” Percy said. “Through the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, NC State will raise the university’s international profile while delivering a real and positive impact for growers and rural communities in North Carolina and beyond.”

Among Percy’s top considerations in accepting this leadership role was the tremendous support the initiative has from the chancellor, from leaders and faculty across the university, the state legislature, growers associations, and other donors. “A coalition of the willing has come together to make the impossible possible and that is energizing and inspiring to be part of,” said Percy.

Percy says North Carolina is a key hot zone for agricultural innovation and that the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative is well-positioned to become its central hub for developing the world’s most advanced research and agricultural technologies.

“North Carolina’s Research Triangle houses one of the most significant agricultural technology ecosystems on the entire planet,” said Percy. “The Plant Sciences Initiative can be at the heart of that ecosystem, effectively bringing agribusiness, ag-tech startups, investors, regional development agencies and other academic institutions together to serve growers in North Carolina and beyond. We have all the elements in place to make that happen.”

Percy also believes that North Carolina, a state with one of the largest and most diverse agricultural industries in America with 8.4 million acres of farmland and an overall economic impact of $95.9 billion, has room to grow – and that the N.C. PSI can support that growth by increasing the economic vitality of North Carolina’s rural communities in several ways.

“First, we make farming more profitable by providing new science and technology that will maximize their production and address issues that hinder their success,” Percy said. “Second, companies that wish to expand their operations or to relocate here to be involved in partnerships with the Plant Sciences Initiative will be a source of new jobs. And third, more students from rural areas will have the opportunity to be part of this high quality research facility.”

The N.C. PSI, soon to be headquartered in a new five-story, 185,000-square-foot building on NC State’s Centennial Campus, will house state-of-the-art instrumentation. Among the building’s incoming resources: one-of-a-kind growth chambers, 25-foot greenhouses that can house any crop, and several core labs that specialize in mass spectrometry, measuring volatiles, or chemical compounds that plants use to communicate, and machinery that can quickly sequence not only plants, but the microbes and other living organisms on them.

The building will also house staff scientists and researchers across many disciplines to support interdisciplinary collaborations within the university, as well as external collaborations with industry, government, and other academic research institutions.

Percy plans to leverage his 25 years in the industry with N.C. PSI’s unique combination of resources to forge innovative new partnerships and to support the career advancement of current faculty and staff, and attract new talent to the university.

“The Plant Sciences Building is truly a fantastic facility, and it will attract top quality and highly talented scientists from near and far who will want to work there,” said Percy. “And across the agribusiness sector, there are those who see the Plant Sciences Initiative as a game changer that can lead to high-quality research outcomes and eventually the commercialization of valuable new technologies for farmers. I have worked in R&D my entire career and I will strive to bring both my network and knowledge of industry needs to help support the creation of new and significant partnerships for the university.”

Steve Lommel, associate dean for Research at CALS, says that Percy has the right background for leading research efforts with multiple stakeholders.

“We are thrilled Dr. Adrian Percy will be joining us as the Executive Director of the N.C. PSI,” said Lommel. “In this role, Adrian will leverage his extensive experiences managing global research enterprises that connect innovative researchers and stakeholders. Adrian is poised to nurture great ideas among our faculty and spark interdisciplinary collaborations that can help solve grand challenges in agriculture.”

“NC State is making strategic investments in interdisciplinary research teams to tackle society’s grandest challenges,” said Dr. Warwick Arden, NC State’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “Society and agriculture are facing challenges which threaten both our food security, our economic development and our environment and we need bold visions and actions to solve these. The North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative was built to do just that, and we are excited to welcome Dr. Adrian Percy to help serve as the initiative’s inaugural executive director.”

Percy says he is enthusiastic about leading the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative and its innovative, team-based approach to problem solving.

“I think that it is now generally recognized that interdisciplinary research needs to be at the forefront of delivering completely new solutions to problems that have plagued agriculture for decades,” Percy said. “I am incredibly excited to lead an extraordinary effort whose mission is to solve these problems. We’re in the right place at the right time, and we have the resources to elevate our research and make a true impact.”


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