North Dakota TCUs Join with NDSU to Advance Ag Research

A $15 million National Science Foundation award to North Dakota State University will support agriculture programs within tribal colleges.

By Paul Boyer

A student enrolled in United Tribes Technical College’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program plants seeds in the college’s greenhouse. UTTC is one of five North Dakota tribal colleges participating in the NSF-funded North Dakota Advanced Agriculture Technology Engine. Photo courtesy of the UTTC Sustainable Ag and Food Systems program.

North Dakota State University, working in partnership with the state’s five tribal colleges, has been awarded $15 million for a project that will use advances in agriculture technology to increase crop yields and introduce new crops to market. Based on the progress made, the initiative could receive up to $160 million over ten years.

One of ten awards made through the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program, the North Dakota Advanced Agriculture Technology Engine, also known as the FARMS Engine, will combine advanced genomics, climate modeling, nanoscale sensors and computer networks to monitor and improve the growth of crops. The project is expected to strengthen the region’s agriculture-based economy and provide more paths to ag-related careers.

FARMS (Food systems Adapted for Resiliency and Maximized Security) represents a coalition of several state research and economic development agencies, as well as North Dakota’s five tribally controlled colleges. NDSU, recipient of the NSF award, will serve as the lead institution.

“The North Dakota Tribal College System is thrilled to be a partner in the FARMS award,” said Twyla Baker, president of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, a tribally controlled college serving the Fort Berthold Reservation, noting that the project “brings together sectors that perhaps have not had the opportunity to work in close proximity before.”

“The tribal colleges look forward to…incorporating ancestral knowledge from Native peoples, and innovation from North Dakota’s tribal college campuses as well,” she said in a prepared statement.

At United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, the FARMS award will help strengthen the college’s two-year Sustainable Agriculture degree program, according to Jeremy Guinn, director of UTTC’s  Intertribal Research & Resource Center.  “They will look to expand the program and develop research, sustainable ag techniques, and cultural plant cultivation,” he told Native Science Report the day after the award was announced.

“Much of the first two years of the award is developing these partnerships and activities,” he said.  “Overall, the TCU role is research, education/workforce development, economic development, and increasing tribal community participation and access in the region.” 

An interactive map of the ten funded Regional Innovation Engines can be found here.

The National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program was authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. Other engines are pursuing projects related to climate resilience, energy storage, water use, smart textiles, and semiconductor manufacturing, among others.

The North Dakota FARMS Engine appears to be the only award that includes Native communities.

According to the NSF, the Regional Innovation Engines program represents “one of the single largest broad investments in place-based research and development in the nation’s history.” Projects that meet NSF-determined benchmarks will be eligible for $160 million over ten years, representing a total potential investment of nearly $1.6 billion by the NSF.

Paul Boyer is editor of Native Science Report

Story published February 1, 2024

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