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University of Minnesota selects MnDRIVE projects to develop safe, sustainable food system

July 15, 2014

Seventeen new research projects involving University of Minnesota researchers and more than 65 food industry partners have been awarded $3 million in funds through the U’s  MnDRIVE initiative, the university announced today.

MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery Research and InnoVation Economy) is an $18 million annual investment by the state of Minnesota in four research areas: Global Food Ventures; Advancing Industry, Conserving Our Environment; Discoveries and Treatments for Brain Conditions; and Robotics, Sensors and Advanced Manufacturing. The initiative combines the U’s distinctive research strengths with the state’s key and emerging industries to develop innovative solutions that propel Minnesota’s economy forward. As one of these areas, Global Food Ventures aims to partner research, agriculture and industry to develop holistic approaches to ensuring a safe, sustainable and resilient food system.

“Continued progress in the field of agriculture is vital not only to Minnesota, with its more than 200 food companies throughout the state, but to the world as a whole,” said Brian Buhr, dean of the U’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS).  “These groundbreaking proposals evaluated by the Global Food Ventures team will help address the critical challenges facing the U.S. and the world. The research projects funded will help find ways to make our food supplies more stable, secure and safe with the goal to meet a growing population’s nutritional needs.

“I’m also very excited that this program is able to support our talented researchers and grow the University’s capacity to innovate and collaborate with key industry partners in Minnesota,” continued Buhr. “The scale of the agricultural, food and environmental challenge facing society requires that we find innovative ways to partner with industry and government and these investments have catalyzed those critical relationships.”

The 17 proposals were chosen through rigorous peer-review by the Global Food Ventures Investment Board, which is comprised of university faculty and leadership and industry partners. These projects address issues in food contamination, supply threats, and current methods of food production, and the majority include partnerships with industry leaders and trade organizations.

Examples of the projects:

  • With support from General Mills, researchers aim to develop milk packaging technology with a color-changing label to indicate spoilage before it shows visible signs.
  • Partners including Land O’ Lakes and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are backing a project to use large health-related datasets to predict disease outbreaks in livestock and to plan how to quickly counteract these epidemics.
  • With support from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other partners, researchers will study how cities process food and sewage waste to re-engineer the system for greater sustainability and better renewable energy.
  • Collaborators at Cargill, General Mills and Schwan Food Company will help researchers study the taste of whole grains in food products and how to make them acceptable to consumers without sacrificing nutrition.
  • With help from the Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Lunds/Byerlys and other partners, researchers will identify several crops to be grown and sold locally in Minnesota greenhouses year-round, and how the manner of production affects yield and nutrition.

To kick-start the Global Food Ventures research objectives, the university has hired two new assistant professors, Jason Beddow and Matteo Convertino. Beddow’s research focuses on the economics of agricultural pests and diseases, international research and development spillover potential, measuring the effects of weather on production, and the effects of location on productivity. Convertino studies how climate change affects the food supply as well as models for sustainable management of ecosystems. Two more faculty members will be hired; one will work in soybean research and the other in veterinary medicine. In addition to the new faculty members, Global Food Ventures has also hired nine graduate student research fellows to assist with projects.

“Talented researchers are the driving force behind the MnDRIVE initiative,” said Brian Herman, the U’s vice president for research. “I’m very pleased with the innovative and ambitious projects put forth by the Global Food Ventures group, and I’m excited by the potential we have here in Minnesota to help address some of the world’s most critical challenges.”

Achieving sustainable global food security will require multi-disciplinary approaches to provide complex systems solutions. CFANS faculty are playing a central role in the Global Food area, but they are also partnering on transdisciplinary projects in the Robotics and Environment areas of the MnDRIVE initiative.  Two new faculty members will be joining the faculty in Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Soil, Water and Climate.

Since passage of the legislation, about $20 million of MnDRIVE funding has been allocated by the University’s four key research areas encompassing seven colleges and 30 departments to build the program’s infrastructure by purchasing the necessary research equipment, hiring more than 50 faculty and research support staff, updating facilities to prepare for the proposed MnDRIVE projects, and working with more than 2,000 Minnesota industry partners.   

Learn more about Global Food Ventures and other MnDRIVE research areas at mndrive.umn.edu

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