Drought stressed corn

AgTech Innovation Hub initial awards announced

Five innovative research projects have been awarded funding from the new AgTech Innovation Hub, a multimillion-dollar collaboration between The Ohio State University and Nationwide.

Nine researchers in The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) were chosen to pitch their innovative research project ideas to be completed through the AgTech Innovation Hub, said Gary Pierzynski, CFAES associate dean of Research and Graduate Education.

Using a kind of “Shark Tank”-like format, each researcher pitched their ideas before a judging panel, and five were selected for funding. The goal of the research projects, each of which will last for one year, is to find a practical solution to a real-world problem in the agricultural ecosystem while better understanding, managing and mitigating climate risk, Pierzynski said.

The projects chosen include:

  • Drought risk reduction: With increased extreme weather events like flooding on farm fields, effective water management for farmers and producers often means installing drainage tiles on their farm fields. This project will study the effects of automating the drainage water management process using sensor technology that monitors real-time water levels in farmers’ fields. Using an app on their phone or computer, a farmer could program their outlet gates to open, close, and respond automatically to these levels. Data gathered from the sensors could also improve decision-making. The project hopes to evaluate the impact of this technology by looking at the content, quality, and volume of water in experimental fields equipped with the automated drainage system. Researchers also plan to use sensors to consider how crops respond by measuring stress, yield, and photosynthetic activity. 
  • Mapping climate risk audiences: An understanding of how audiences perceive climate change allows practitioners to address misperceptions. This project will map perceptions and experiences associated with climate risk, determine perceptions of insurance as a risk reduction and mitigation strategy, and identify climate risk audience segments. The goal is to create a nationwide map detailing climate risk perceptions by region or audience segment to inform future communication campaigns related to climate risk mitigation.
  • Precision risk management: This project studies the use of artificial intelligence and other precision and digital agriculture as a tool to predict corn and soybean yield differences as it relates to planting date to provide valuable guidance to Ohio farmers.
  • Studying pathogen interactions and climate risks to improve soybean establishment: The project will research how spring weather conditions affect pathogen infection and seedling establishment in soybean crops with a goal to increase the understanding of how planting date, seasonal weather, and harvest date all affect seed quality and pathogen presence in soybeans. The study results may have immediate use for farmers in planting and harvesting recommendations.
  • Cell-permeable proteins for sustainable organic agriculture: Biopesticides and bio stimulants are natural substances or organisms that, when applied, enhance a plant’s natural defense and growth mechanisms. The development of these natural approaches is in high demand due to increased disease pressure due to climate change and reduced effectiveness of traditional control methods. This project seeks to improve the effectiveness of an existing biopesticide for disease control and growth promotion in tomato crops, both those grown using hydroponics and those grown in farm fields.

“All nine projects that were pitched were outstanding and worthy of funding,” Pierzynski said. “The Council selected five that were innovative, the closest to providing a solution to a relevant issue, and that would be of interest to Nationwide customers and employees.”

“We had so many good candidates for this first round of funding,” said Devin Fuhrman, Nationwide’s Chief Agriculture and Sponsor Relations Officer. “I’m excited to see what insights their research produces and how that knowledge will help improve the agricultural ecosystem.”

First announced last fall, the AgTech Innovation Hub is facilitated by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and aims to encourage the development of new solutions that will help the agricultural ecosystem while better understanding, managing and mitigating climate risk.

Nationwide pledged up to $2 million in initial funding to identify and execute initiatives for the AgTech Innovation Hub. The AgTech Innovation Hub will provide a variety of tools, resources, skillsets and funding platforms to address the dynamic and changing needs of agriculture innovation to minimize climate risk and accurately insure those risks with a goal to expand the reach of the Hub over time. 

This partnership builds on the collaborative that Nationwide and the Nationwide Foundation already have with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and The Ohio State University, said Cathann A. Kress, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and dean of CFAES.

“It will challenge our students and faculty to create innovative solutions to tackle the challenges we face regarding the nexus of ecosystem sustainability, food security, and viable production agriculture,” she said.

The AgTech Innovation Hub is a great partnership between Nationwide and CFAES with a goal of stimulating innovative ideas, services and products that the agriculture industry and the food system can access to better understand, mitigate and manage issues relates to global climate change, Pierzynski said.

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