With the global quantity of food required by human populations expected to double by 2050, agricultural production and its workforce must adapt to meet the rising demand for food – and a $750,000 grant recently awarded to Montclair State University researchers will help to train the next generation of agriculturists with the technological and sustainability-oriented skills they need to mitigate the food security crisis.
The five-year Green Ag Teams project, led by Institute Director Amy Tuininga and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will train undergraduate participants from diverse backgrounds to enter the agriculture industry and prepare them to be competitive for advanced agricultural science and related technology degrees.
Through this paid experiential learning opportunity, participants will also study ethical and sustainability-oriented agricultural practices and processes, and receive cross-training on urban and rural agricultural practices via an exchange program between New Jersey and Kansas.
The project will directly impact 50 students with agriculture-specific training opportunities, and will indirectly impact 1,500 additional students involved in concurrent training and partner programs, providing increased exposure to potential agricultural careers and the need for sustainability and data science professionals within the industry.
As part of the hands-on training, the project incorporates novel and sustainable technologies including machine learning or artificial intelligence, web design and data dashboards, robotics and process automation, sustainable or renewable energy source integration, cost benefit analysis and circular economic processes, and geographic information systems.
“We are excited to partner with Kansas State University on this new ag-tech initiative,” Tuininga says. “In a time when so many people are fighting food injustice, and technology is advancing so quickly, it is imperative to train a new generation of agriculture workers to use technology to address these disparities, build resilient food systems locally and nationally, and provide ready access to healthy food for all. This is exactly what the transdisciplinary Green Teams Program does.”
The research is part of NIFA’s Research and Extension Learning Experiences for Undergraduates program, a $15 million investment that supports the development of new members of the agricultural workforce and provides opportunities for students, including those from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged groups, minority-serving institutions, community colleges and universities.