FLORENCE — U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., heard Friday how a recent initiative at the Clemson University Pee Dee Research and Education Center can help the state’s agriculture industry thrive through collaborative research.

Matt C. Smith, the center’s director, told Rice an increasing population and greater energy demands are creating needs for increased food production and crop quality.

At issue, Smith said, is that 70 percent of what is needed to meet these demands will have to come from land that’s already in farming. This national picture is mirrored here in South Carolina, he said.

The Pee Dee center, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, is undergoing a period of expansion, both programmatically and in terms of its facilities.

One of the key developments at the center is the Advanced Plant Technology program. The important initiative focuses on improving the value of South Carolina’s agronomic crops, such as soybeans, cotton and peanuts, to support the state’s $35 billion agribusiness industry.

Varieties and production methods developed through this program can be applied statewide to enhance crop production and value.

The program complements ongoing plant science research at the Pee Dee center, on the main Clemson campus and at Clemson’s Edisto and Coastal research centers in Blackville and Charleston, respectively.

This statewide research collaboration provides a bridge to 21st century agriculture using traditional plant breeding and molecular genetics to develop new crops and crop-based products.

Stephen Kresovich, the Robert and Lois Coker Trustees Chair of Genetics/SmartState Chair of Genomics who runs the Advanced Plant Technology program, said this type of research is more than just science.

“It’s thoughtful science, but it’s also about delivering products,” Kresovich said.

Faculty at the center also presented an overview of other research areas that includes bioenergy, turf grass, multicrop pest management and switchgrass.

During his visit to the Pee Dee, Rice, who represents South Carolina’s 7th District, was accompanied by Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. Rice said his fellow congressman is likely to be the next chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture.

“If Washington can help with issues here in the Pee Dee, this is the man who can help.,” Rice told the Clemson faculty.

The Congressmen’s visit also included stops at Johnny Shelley Farm in Nichols, Dillon Tractor and Implement Co. in Dillon, McArthur Farms in Bennettsville and Sparrow and Kennedy Tractor Co. in Timmonsville.