Giant, Harrisburg U team up on new ag research center

Seeded by a $1 million donation from grocery chain The Giant Co., Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is hoping to plant a new center for agricultural research in the capital city.

A rendering of The Giant Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability at Harrisburg University (submitted)
  • The center would plow into the technological and environmental trends that are reshaphing modern agriculture, according to leaders involved in cultivating it.
  • The trends include clean water, soil health and and indoor farming – known as environmentally controlled agriculture – as well as new technology, such as robotics, analytics. 
  • “This center is going to be focused on some things that I’ve been learning about personally for the last couple of years that are next level,” Giant president Nicholas Bertram said during a press conference Monday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
  • The 23,000 square-foot center could even include a small research greenhouse to test new technologies, said Harrisburg University president Eric Darr.

What’s next: The university hopes to choose a site for The Giant Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability at Harrisburg University in the first half of 2022, Darr said in an interview with biznewsPA.

  • Foot traffic is among the factors the university is weighing, he said, since the center will have a consumer-research component.
  • New advances in farming may allow Giant to sell a dozen varieties of tomato, Darr said. The center could help the Carlisle-based chain figure out which varieties consumers will actually buy and eat.
  • The overall budget for the center is at least $10 million, with costs depending on the center’s location, Darr said. The project could entail new construction or retrofitting existing buildings. 
  • Ideally, the center would open by the end of the year but, given cost and supply chain issues in construction, it is hard to forecast, Darr said.

Are there other partners: The university is in talks with others that might back the center, Darr said.

  • State officials are lending their support, with agriculture secretary Russell Redding speaking at the Farm Show press conference.
  • The center, for example, could help young people find careers in agriculture, which has been a priority for the state.
  • “It is about the future. It is about what we see as the opportunities for Pennsylvania agriculture,” Redding said.

-By Joel Berg, editor, biznewsPA.

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