By GENE STOWE
South Bend Tribune Correspondent
7:10 PM EDT, August 15, 2012
ELKHART -- Agdia Inc. is growing because of the evolving agricultural market's high-tech ways to test for potentially devastating diseases.
"It's been a constant growth area," said President Baziel Vrient, 61, who joined the Elkhart company as an operations manager 20 years ago.
"We primarily work in the disease areas as well as the genetic trait area."
This fall, the firm -- recognized as a Company to Watch by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. -- will break ground for a 50,000-square-foot facility on 60 acres that will replace its 16,000-square-foot plant and consolidate its operations at 30380 County Road 6.
"There's a constantly evolving market for this type of industry. It's important if you want to keep a line of foods coming to the market," he said. "The disease prevalence seems to be changing every year and causing new focus and the need for new products to test for plant pathogens."
In addition to the new facility, Vrient said, the firm has identified his eventual successor to ensure that the business remains successful in Michiana.
"It's a desire for the company to continue on," he said. "We're planning to be here for the long haul. ... It's because all of our people here understand what we're doing to try to support the agriculture industry."
The 55 workers include many with advanced degrees, since supporting the agriculture industry now includes sophisticated diagnostics down to the molecular level, similar to those in human medicine.
"There's always going to be a constant need for this business," Vrient said. "That need has to be met by the company to help all the growers, make sure they have clean stock and grow healthy plants."
Plant diseases can quickly ravage crops. For example, a relative of the fungus that caused the Irish potato famine is now attacking hardwoods in the West. Plant breeders need to ensure that their newly developed varieties are safe.
"You need to get millions of those plants," Vrient said. "We try to help you along the way to get to those millions by developing tests to make sure your plants are healthy. We work with the farmer's farmer. We're spread across almost any growing segment that you can imagine."
Agdia, which is USDA-certified, has more than 200 pathogen tests in stock. It helps growers from about 150 countries identify diseases and it can conduct tests to determine whether seed corn is resistant to herbicides.
In the past, tests for unhealthy plants involved exposing a healthy plant to a sick one and waiting two weeks to see if symptoms developed. Now, Agdia can usually turn around tests in a day or two.
Among other things, the company provides trademarked isothermal strips -- similar to a pregnancy test -- for field testing and participates in a government effort to eradicate the plum pox virus.
"We try to cover the gamut with the kind of product and tests," said Vrient, who expects to increase his staff when the new building opens next year.
"We hope to make it a campus. There's other possibilities we're currently not doing in the ag industry that would look good out there."
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