- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A university located in the middle of fertile North Dakota farmland is planning a new center to research and help develop a safe and healthy food supply for people around the world.

North Dakota State University officials say the proposed Global Institute of Food Security and International Agriculture would take advantage of the state’s rich soil, where more than 30 crops are grown for commercial production.

“The diversity of crops is very central to the global food basket,” said NDSU researcher Kalidas Shetty, who is set to be the institute’s founding director. “North Dakota is in a good position to help with such a wide variety.”

NDSU officials are scheduled to unveil the proposal at Thursday’s state Board of Higher Education’s meeting in Dickinson. The blueprint needs approval by the board. The school plans to use money from current programs to get the center up and running by this fall.

Shetty said the emphasis on food production or “crops for health and sustainability” is a key component of the curriculum. Rather than focusing on whether people have enough to eat, the program will look at replacing empty calories with quality food In hopes of addressing obesity, diabetes and other health problems.

“We need to look from soil to bedside,” Shetty said. “The perspective of food security has to change.”

The institute would also study indoor growing or urban gardens, improving macronutrients in crops, traditional crops for indigenous communities, growing food in areas with poor soils, and agriculture technology.

Ken Grafton, NDSU’s dean and director of agricultural affairs, said the program would benefit NDSU and the state by increasing international recognition, enhancing the curriculum in food-related studies and expanding export opportunities for North Dakota crops.

Food security is “one of the most fundamental challenges” facing countries around the world, Grafton said.

“If we can provide a better platform of crop development and diversification, then we can perhaps make available better diets to citizens of the United States as well as other countries,” he said.