23 Jan 2023


This generous gift supports vital facilities used by scientists in HudsonAlpha’s Center for Plant Science and Sustainable Agriculture

By Lillie Mermoud

Supporting Alabama’s farmers, as well as the interests of all Alabamians, has always been a priority for the Alabama Farmers Federation. From advocating for Alabama farmers and rural communities, to supporting brilliant young agricultural science scholars through scholarships, and leading impactful community outreach and educational programs, the organization works hard to support the agricultural industry on a local, state, and national level. 

When HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology announced the completion of the Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse in the summer of 2022, Alabama Farmers Federation knew that the state-of-the-art facility, and the research that the HudsonAlpha Center for Plant Science and Sustainable Agriculture scientists conduct within it, plays a critical role in solving the agricultural industry’s most pressing problems through cleaner and more sustainable farming practices. 

Supporting discovery in sustainable agriculture

News of the greenhouse’s completion reached Paul Pinyan, executive director of the Alabama Farmers Federation, who immediately connected the Plant Center’s work in the greenhouse with the Alabama Farmers Federation mission. Pinyan and fellow leadership of the Alabama Farmers Federation were inspired to make a landmark gift of $200,000 to name crucial research facilities within the greenhouse that support work on sustainable agriculture.

“For over 100 years, Alabama Farmers Federation has been on the frontlines of agricultural research and innovation,” Pinyan said. “From early advancements in soil tillage and plant breeding to pest management and precision agriculture, the Federation and its farmer members have invested in technology to feed and clothe a growing world. HudsonAlpha is the new frontier in agricultural research. Work done in this greenhouse will chart a new course for agriculture. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for all Alabamians, and HudsonAlpha is helping us achieve that goal by developing tools farmers can use to be more productive, profitable, and sustainable. We are proud to partner with HudsonAlpha on this next journey in agricultural research.”

In recognition of this amazing gift, the Potting/Education Room as well as a large grow room will be named in honor of the Alabama Farmers Federation. The Potting/Education room is one of the largest rooms within the 14,000 square foot state-of-the-art greenhouse. This space provides an environment where plants destined for one of the greenhouse’s seven grow rooms can be potted and propagated in a sterile environment, while also functioning as a space where students of all ages can come together for educational programs on HudsonAlpha’s plant science research. The grow rooms boast 15-foot high ceilings and can each accommodate up to 500 individual plants. LED lighting installed in the grow rooms mimics the rising and setting sun, allowing Plant Center researchers to manipulate when plants flower and decrease the time it takes to breed new crop lines.

The greenhouse also includes two cutting edge molecular laboratories, a bioinformatics lab, a long-term temperature- and humidity-regulated seed storage vault, and nearby access to a two-acre research field owned by HudsonAlpha. The Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse is the only greenhouse in the United States that unites such technologically advanced features under one roof.

Rooted in History

Agriculture is inextricably tied to Alabama’s past, present, and future. Throughout its history, the state has been an important agricultural center that supplies staple crops such as cotton, soybeans, peanuts, chicken, and beef to the rest of the country and beyond. Today, agriculture has a $70 billion economic impact on the state of Alabama, and the state counts more than 44,000 farms across nearly 9 million acres of land. Over 600,000 Alabamians rely on the agricultural industry for their livelihood, either directly or indirectly.

Since its founding in 1921, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the organization that originated ALFA Insurance, has been at the very heart of Alabama’s agricultural scene. The organization’s mission is to nurture this vital industry in Alabama, while being mindful of the unique challenges faced by today’s farmers such as changing climates, crop resistance to pests and fungi, and sustainability. The organization is actively shaping the future of the agricultural industry through educational programs and philanthropic support to better feed, fuel, and clothe the growing state of Alabama and the global community beyond.

Seeding the Future

HudsonAlpha’s Plant Center harnesses the power of genomics to solve the very agricultural challenges that concern the Alabama Farmers Federation. Uniting the expertise of five HudsonAlpha faculty members, the Plant Center works to identify more sustainable farming practices and create agriculturally significant crops that are drought- and disease-resistant, among many other research focuses. Some of the crops grown and studied in the greenhouse include such agriculturally significant crops as peanuts, cotton, sugar cane, sunflowers, and perennial grasses used in the production of biofuel and biomass. 

The construction of the Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse was inspired by the Plant Center’s rapid growth, and is part of the latest expansion of the HudsonAlpha Biotech Campus. HudsonAlpha is grateful to Governor Kay Ivey and the State of Alabama for funding this expansion, and to generous donors like the Alabama Farmers Federation, who have made the greenhouse a unique and powerful resource that advances HudsonAlpha’s agricultural research. 

“The Alabama Farmers Federation gift is transformational for HudsonAlpha’s Plant Center. The Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse itself is critical to our work on sustainable agriculture, and support of facilities within the greenhouse like the Potting/Education Room and Grow Room gives us the resources to accelerate discovery,” said Kankshita Swaminathan, PhD, Faculty Investigator. “The naming of the Alabama Farmers Federation Grow Room greatly advances my laboratory’s research on the role of perennial grasses in sustainable farming practices and the development of renewable resources. This gift puts us one step closer to identifying cleaner farming practices that will positively impact the state of Alabama and the world around us.”