Cohort Challenges

Food Animal Production and Local Community Relationships

There are interrelationships between food animal production, local resources (like water and energy) and local communities that ultimately influence local decision-making, local economy, animal numbers, and social acceptance over time for a county or region within a state

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Dairy Nitrogen

Nitrogen is essential to our existence.  Nitrogen is transformed from its inert form in the air we breathe to building blocks that become amino acids or nucleic acids that comprise our genetic code.  The nitrogen cycle includes the incorporation of nitrogen into biological processes. Through mineralization, ammonium is cleaved. Nitrification occurs in the presence of oxygen as nitrite and nitrate are formed. Denitrification occurs in the absence of oxygen as nitrogen is returned to its inert form and is released to the atmosphere.  Once in the atmosphere, it awaits the opportunity to be re-incorporated through biological processes to organic nitrogen. At dairies, nitrogen is in plants the animals consume, the animals, animal products (milk, meat, and offspring) and their excrement (feces and urine).

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Disaster Relief and Resiliency

On the order of $43 billion of damages were dealt with Puerto Rico (Planning Board of Puerto Rican Government, 2018), which has not fully recovered, and continues to lack federal aid. This cohort challenge is designed to engage students in the development of pathways towards resilient responses for disaster relief efforts. This will be done in the context of Puerto Rico, currently still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Students will investigate background cultural, political, and social factors that preceded disaster-related events. Lessons learned should be applied more widely to similar disasters in other regions around the world. Students will be trained in the assessment of the viability of potential social and technological solutions responding to current challenges for the local societies after the disaster. Students will work with local communities, aid organizations, and peer institutions in the identification and implementation of resilient responses. Students will document their assessments providing a prioritized action plan for future development efforts.

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Previous Cohort Challenges


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?

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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 the decisions of dairy farmers, policymakers, and food supply chain companies investing in improving the sustainability of dairy systems.

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