We need a transdisciplinary science to address the regional, national, and global challenges that agricultural systems present for creating a sustainable society. Nutrients are valuable commodities in food and agricultural systems and our understanding of hydrological, physiochemical and ecological dynamics has led to the development of technological interventions to reduce harmful environmental impacts (e.g. precision farming, reuse of manure as fertilizer, cover crops, biofilters, buffer zones, wetlands, crop rotation, drip irrigation among others). Yet those technological interventions require sociopolitical support to ensure that
producers and land managers adopt best management practices, without impacting production. Data sets from a variety of structured (e.g. weather predictions) and unstructured (e.g. social network activity) sources represent a revolutionary opportunity to understand system performance and to influence decision-making on a multi-dimensional and multi-scalar way.
How can we set about developing new tools for integration of solutions? How can the implementation of solutions be paid for without unfairly impacting key sectors of food and agriculture?
Carbon is essential to our existence. It drives our current energy systems for food production through photosynthesis, powers our economy with many petroleum-based products, and challenges our environment when emitted to the atmosphere is associated with greenhouse gas compounds (methane and carbon dioxide) or malodor (volatile organic compounds). Our challenge to a cohort of graduate students from multiple disciplines and institutions is to 1) characterize the carbon cycles within a dairy farm and 2) communicate your dairy carbon model to a lay audience, and 3) explore opportunities for optimizing beneficial carbon products and byproducts. How can you optimize this system? Your cohort’s products will impact decisions of dairy farmers, policy makers, and food supply chain companies investing in improving the sustainability of dairy systems.
Odors associated with livestock production are an example of a wicked-hard problem that is often thought to be too complex to handle and unique to every case. Response to odor is often a symptom of another problem and an opening to a larger set of underlying problems. Politics, regulations, social and economic issues mingle with ‘hard’ engineering and science interconnected with the production of food. Many technologies for addressing odor issue with the consumption of significant quantities of energy and water. There is a growing consensus that the sustainability of the concentrated livestock and poultry industries in the U.S. and elsewhere, depends on proactively addressing odor. This proposed Cohort Challenge creates an opportunity for addressing odor issues for a single farm or large to massive-scale proposals to build hundreds of new livestock farms within a state. The skills and lessons learned will equip team members with the experience of solving a ‘wicked’ problem related to real-life issues.