4 Universities Win Agriculture Tech Prizes

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the winners of the first Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) prize competition on Nov. 1.

I-FAST encourages collaboration between NIFA-funded researchers, scientists, and industry leaders in an effort to bring technological agricultural advances into the marketplace. The winning teams are from the University of Houston (UH), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois), Lincoln University (LU), and Cornell University (Cornell). Each team will receive $50,000, as well as the opportunity to apply for additional funding through USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.

The UH team created an augmented reality technology system that educates and monitors employees on the best practices to handle fresh-cut produce. The Illinois team made two software packages that can inexpensively run large-scale, on-farm agronomic trials and create strategies for profitable nitrogen fertilizer management. LU designed a pathogen detection biotechnology test kit to check for E. coli. The Cornell group created a micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) microtensiometer sensor that provides readings of plant water and soil stresses.

“Innovation is an economic driver and a necessity in the agriculture industry,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “Through this new partnership with the National Science Foundation, we are able to help move ideas from the research lab to the marketplace, where they can provide real solutions as these teams intended.”

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