FARGO - While the North Dakota State University football team was battling with a rival for bragging rights in the Dakotas, a multi-disciplinary group of academics back home was having a friendly competition to find research topics under an increasingly popular "Farm of the Future" theme.
NDSU's Office of Research and Creative Activity hosted CoSearch NDSU on Oct. 25-26, pulled researchers from varying disciplines and challenged them to come up with collaborative ideas.
The two-day process started idea "pitches" from individuals on Friday evening, followed by formation of "teams," and final collaboration on the initial projects Saturday, which are pitched to a group of judges.NDSU's process was facilitated by Michael Burns, an Ohio native who gained a doctorate in communication at NDSU in 2012.
Burns now is a faculty member at Texas State University in San Marcos, where he co-founded CoSearch about five years ago. The CoSearch process can be applied to any number of topics, including both rural and urban ag-related goals.
Burns said the process helps researchers who may be "stuck in their academic silos" to meet, talk, and work on projects together to "solve community problems." Earlier CoSearch events have culminated in viable research projects in nurse training and mental wellness, among other things.
NDSU's event was hosted by Burns, ORCA, and Scott Meyer, NDSU's Ozbun executive director of entrepreneurship. It was the eighth CoSearch event but the first to deal with agriculture. About 20 faculty signed up for CoSearch NDSU, including researchers from Research Extension Centers from throughout the state.
Outside the silos
Ideas were boiled down to four team groups then were mentored by experienced researchers and consultants. The mentors helped the groups consider potential funding sources for "research that matters," Burns said.
Ryan Buetow, an Extension agronomist at the Dickinson Research Extension Center, worked with one of the groups that would create pilot projects of agricultural or horticultural production techniques to remediate water and soil in urban or other areas affected by industrial and other pollutants.
Beutow's group project could demonstrate how communities could include plants to filter pollutants such as cadmium, excessive nitrates, lead or arsenic, for example. Biomass from this project would be destroyed to make the soil or water usable, and to create healthy food options.
"It's putting the power of cleaning up that water back into the communities, said Kelly Parker, doctorate student in health, nutrition and exercise science. A project could be developed in North Dakota to address nitrate, phosphate and mineral salt rehabilitation.
Another novel idea came from Meghan Duda, an NDSU photographic artist and an assistant professor in the visual arts department. Duda, who uses her photography to look at ecology, proposed a project that would use "patterns and designs" in multiple crops in a field to introduce diversity into monocultures. Her group group included Extension specialists and a landscape architect.
Duda acknowledged that her pattern concepts might seem "naive," but was pleased to share and learn from people who work in agriculture every day seemed "inspired" in new directions. "Fresh ideas, new eyes," Duda said, smiling.
One of the participants in CoSearch NDSU was William Aderholdt, a Grand Farm project manager, a high-tech demonstration and development initiative of the Emerging Prairie tech group. The Grand Farm is working to develop a "Farm of the Future" demonstration and development project near Horace, N.D. Emerging Prairie recently announced a $1.5 million grant from the Microsoft corporation. So far, there is no formal connection link between NDSU and Grand Farm, although many NDSU students have participated in Grand Farm events.