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The winning 2017 SmartAg 4.0 team poses with judges and mentors.

College student competition aims to bring innovative ideas to dairy industry

By Chip Tuson

One revolutionary idea can transform an entire industry overnight. At least, that’s what The Ohio State University SmartAg4.0 student competition posits to event participants. In much of the way Uber has changed how we commute and AirBnb has changed how we find accommodations, participants in SmartAg4.0 could have the next big idea to transform agriculture.

“Agriculture is undergoing a significant transformation that rivals historical developments including mechanization, the ‘Green Revolution,’ or biotechnology,” said Scott Shearer, Professor and Chair at Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. “Most agricultural professionals now realize that connecting the farm to the internet (e.g., big data and data analytics) will drive sustainability and productivity of the ‘food systems’ of the future. SmartAg4.0 is designed to help students gain experience with turning ideas into new products or services that will reshape global agriculture.”

SmartAg4.0 started in 2016 with the idea of offering a “hack-a-thon” style event to students in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State. The competition ended up drawing students of all disciplines from across the university to participate, and has continued to grow since its first year. SmartAg4.0 is now open to all undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in any Ohio college or university.

Students form teams to compete in the 24-hour event where they conceptualize an idea to pitch to a panel of judges from academia and representatives from industry sponsors. This year, participants will focus their idea on one of four domain topics related to the dairy industry: sustainable nutrition, sensors and smart packaging, the internet of things, and blockchain.

“Students need to begin thinking about how the Internet of Things can add value to all segments of the food system — production through consumer,” Shearer said. “We’re focusing on dairy this year because it’s importance to Ohio agriculture, existing labor shortages and emerging technologies (e.g., RFID, robotic milkers, robotic feeding systems and ultra high-temperature pasteurization).”

Student participants are simply asked to bring an idea and a laptop or smart device to the event. From there, they network and meet fellow students and industry leaders to help spark innovation. After forming their teams, students work through the night and morning to get ready for their pitch.

“Our world must start paying more attention to environmental issues, and newly developed applications can facilitate this process,” said John Conroy, an Operations Management and Public Management major at Ohio State. “With this in mind, I thought I could get some awesome ideas and meet like-minded individuals by participating in SmartAg4.0.”

Conroy and his team designed a presented a wireframe app design for an app called “InStock” which would be used by stores and restaurants to manage product and better measure food waste. Other ideas from past years include a community garden service for cities, social networking apps for consumers to learn about the farms where their food comes from, and ways for consumers to more directly track nutrition. Some student teams have gone on to pursue their ideas beyond the competition and seek commercialization.

“You can get so much out of an event that only takes a weekend,” Conroy said. “You learn to work with others on a time-sensitive project, you learn to critically analyze a concept and develop solutions, and you have the opportunity to present your idea in front of professionals who are excited to listen.”

 

SmartAg4.0 2018 takes place September 28-29 on Ohio State’s Columbus campus. If you’re a current college student interested in participating in SmartAg4.0 or represent a company interested in sponsoring this event, please visit smartag4.osu.edu.

 

Chip Tuson, Program Manager, Marketing & Communications can be reached at tuson.1@osu.edu. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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