The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) has been awarded $395,105 in funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC) to establish an ISO-Certified Analytical Testing Facility. The lab will meet ISO 17025 certification requirements, serving and supporting the needs of the agricultural community in the TRRC footprint. 

“As new agricultural markets are on the horizon for interested Virginia farmers, we are excited to work with the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to one day offer a critical testing component to ease entry into these markets and encourage their growth,” said Mark Gignac, IALR’s Executive Director. “This is one aspect of how we constantly seek ways to support the growth and economic transformation of our region, and agriculture certainly remains a vital part of our economy.”

Organic vegetable, wine, hops, barley and industrial hemp are just some of the emerging markets requiring testing for safety and marketability. The lab will help new farmers entering these potentially profitable sectors by providing accessible, affordable testing for pesticides, heavy metals, biological contaminants and more. The program aims to diversify the region’s agricultural outputs, promote agribusiness growth and increase agribusiness profitability.

One emerging market, industrial hemp, was recently approved through the 2018 Farm Bill signed into legislation at the federal level in December. IALR is positioned to serve as a market catalyst for this industry by offering the highest quality testing services at an affordable rate thanks to the funding from TRRC. Both growers and processors may benefit from the ISO-certified testing. Industrial hemp is used to make a variety of commercial and industrial products, including health and natural food products, supplements, skin products, clothing, bioplastics, insulation, biofuel and more.

“The emerging industrial hemp market will provide increased opportunities for regional growers wishing to diversify,” said Dr. Scott Lowman, Director of Applied Research at IALR. “The Institute is poised to be a leader in the industrial hemp market by combining plant science expertise with analytical chemistry and market connections.”

Part of the funding will allow the purchase of an elite research equipment item. UPLC-MS/MS, or Ultra-Performance Liquid Chromatography-tandem Mass Spectrometer, is a chemistry technique that combines the physical separation capabilities of liquid chromatography (separating a chemical mixture into its individual components) with the mass analysis capabilities of mass spectrometry (measuring the molecular masses of the chemical compounds within a sample). The Waters Xevo TQ-XS model will take this technology to a new level, expanding analysis accuracy, sensitivity and reproducibility with automated system optimization, status monitoring and reporting.

IALR Analytical Chemist Jack He provides analytical methodology development and chemical testing services to help speed decision making processes, and quantifies the efficacy of products under development.