Groundbreaking AgTech Innovation Partnership: NDSU, Grand Farm, Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, and the FMWF Chamber reach semifinalist round for $160 million NSF Engines FARMS proposal
Initiative will transform economic development and tackle global food challenges
The collaborative partnership is known as the Northern Plains AgTech Engine for Food systems Adapted for Resiliency and Maximized Security or FARMS. The primary objective of the FARMS proposal is to optimize and leverage the existing agricultural opportunities and the AgTech ecosystem in North Dakota to best address global food challenges. The project will work to offset a diminishing agricultural workforce by improving farming efficiencies, maintaining/increasing yields, reducing environmental impacts and enhancing ecosystems services.
Submitted in early 2023, the proposal aims to accelerate economic development in agriculture while focusing on issues such as food security and production for a rapidly growing global population. Partnerships, including those with North Dakota higher education institutions, are featured prominently and include United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) and Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College from the North Dakota Tribal College System (NDTCS); University of North Dakota, Bismarck State College, and North Dakota State College of Science from the North Dakota University System (NDUS). Private sector and government partnerships were also key components of the project.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that FARMS is one of 34 semifinalists in the competition from an original pool of 188 projects that span nearly all key technology areas and societal and economic challenges highlighted in the CHIPS and Science Act.
“A recent economic impact study shows that agriculture contributes $31 billion to the North Dakota economy and more than 110,000 jobs,” said NDSU President David Cook. “FARMS is truly a unique opportunity to accelerate momentum around the future of agriculture technology and our state’s role in addressing food security and the workforce and innovation translation necessary to grow this sector.”
The NSF’s Engines program is designed to catalyze and foster innovation ecosystems throughout the U.S. Its goals include advancing critical technologies, addressing national and societal challenges, cultivating partnerships among industry, academia, government, nonprofits, civil society, and communities of practice, promoting economic growth and job creation, and fostering regional innovation and talent. Engines support use-inspired research, translating innovation into practice, and workforce development while prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
In addition to NDSU’s research capabilities, the partnership with Grand Farm is an important aspect of the FARMS project. Grand Farm, powered by Emerging Prairie, is a collaborative initiative focused on accelerating research, innovation, and technology in the agriculture industry. Grand Farm Director Brian Carroll is co-leading stakeholders and partnerships for the project and said, “Grand Farm is excited to be on the leadership team for NSF Engine. We are creating a network of growers, technologists, corporations, startups, educators, policymakers, and investors working together to solve problems in agriculture with applied technology.”
A cornerstone of developing applied technology is the process of research and development and the transfer of technology from researcher to industry. An expert in the rapidly growing field of dry edible beans, NDSU Professor and genomicist Phillip McClean will serve as the Research and Development lead for FARMS and ND EPSCoR Executive Director Jolynne Tschetter will lead the process of working with industry partners on commercializing research developed by the project.
Executive Director of The FMWF Chamber Foundation Jenna Mueller is co-lead for education and workforce development on the project and brings expertise running the federal Good Jobs Challenge in the area. She sees great potential in the project to attract talent and create opportunities for upskilling. The project’s inclusive vision will lead to equitable agricultural opportunities for New Americans, Tribal citizens, veterans, and others. “Our region boasts a wealth of AgTech Innovation pioneers, yet the prospect of nurturing and propelling their expertise, while equipping present and upcoming talents to become global frontrunners, is truly exhilarating. This endeavor will not only bolster North Dakota’s workforce and economic development but also cement its position as a leading force in the AgTech landscape.” Joining Mueller as co-lead in this area is NDSU Professor and Chair of NDSU Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Leon Schumacher.
The involvement of Tribal Colleges and Universities and Tribal communities in North Dakota is a key component of FARMS. NDSU Associate Professor Hollie Mackey will co-lead this effort, incorporating best practices to integrate and reinforce this connection at all levels. Mackey will be joined by NDSU Director of Tribal Partnerships Sheridan McNeil, who brings seven years of experience at United Tribes Technical College, culminating in her role as Dean of Instruction.
Mackey was Executive Director for the White House Initiative on Advancing Education Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Native Americans and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities. “FARMS creates an amazing opportunity for Tribal communities and the Tribal Colleges and Universities to collaborate in meaningful partnerships as key FARMS stakeholders, centering Indigenous knowledge to advance food sovereignty and Native nation building.”
GFMEDC Chief Business Development Officer Ryan Aasheim is a co-lead with Carroll on stakeholders and partnerships and noted how it’s the right time for the project. “The NSF Engines opportunity could not be more appropriate right now given the significant momentum and investment our region has made into building our AgTech ecosystem. The state, along with numerous local and national public and private sector partners, have invested over a hundred million dollars to support the buildout of this infrastructure.”
NDSU Vice President for Research and Creative Activity Colleen Fitzgerald agrees. “North Dakota is the poster child for advancing the geography of innovation and being considered for funding like this from the NSF only confirms that. We are truly a proof of concept for the NSF slogan: Innovation anywhere, Opportunity everywhere.”
Additional information about the NSF Engines Semifinalists: https://new.nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/regional-innovation-engines/updates/nsf-selects-34-semifinalists-inaugural-nsf
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