September 27, 2023

The University of Georgia has been awarded $1 million from the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program for the Next Generation Agriculture project, a broad collaboration intended to help Georgia farmers move toward “Ag 4.0”—the fourth agricultural revolution—in their practices.

Next Generation Agriculture, or NextGA, will collaborate with farmers in a 20-county region of south Georgia to create an infrastructure for integrative agricultural innovation that is already “in place.” NextGA will make the most of the capabilities of more than 30 public and commercial organizations. The region is home to some 650,000 people, and NextGA aims to give them the assistance and knowledge they need to create farming systems that are intergenerationally, socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable.

“Specialty crop farmers in Georgia face some unique challenges, such as rapidly changing technology, shortages of labor and other resources, mental health stressors and a sense of isolation, among others,” said Karen Burg, vice provost for research at UGA and principle investigator for NextGA. “We want to partner with these communities to catalyze local entrepreneurialism and build innovation ecosystems that create new opportunities. To do this, we want to use a truly holistic approach that includes cutting-edge research, intentional workforce development, and deep community engagement.”

The academic leaders of NextGA are UGA and Fort Valley State University, Georgia’s two land-grant universities. The leadership team also includes representatives from two nonprofit groups, VentureWell and the Center on Rural Innovation. A coalition of roughly 30 public organizations, businesses, NGOs, and municipal governments stands behind those four organizations. The Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of them.

Archie Tucker, Southeast area director for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, said, “In our mission to deliver scientific solutions to national and global agricultural challenges, we look forward to working with the universities and their regional stakeholders to develop strategies that promote innovative agricultural research in Georgia.”

A crucial collaborator in the project is UGA Extension. At least one Extension agent is assigned to each of Georgia’s 159 counties. These people will be the crucial links between NextGA’s partners and the people they seek to serve, some of whom have worked for years in local communities and have gained their confidence.

“Colquitt County and our neighboring counties are frequently ranked as Georgia’s best agricultural counties.In order to maintain our position, Chas Cannon, the county administrator for Colquitt County, expressed his excitement about working with NextGA to promote economic growth and increase prosperity for residents of rural south Georgia. “The state of Georgia’s top industry is agriculture. Our collaboration with NextGA will enable us to build on our prior successes and maintain the importance of the rural, agricultural economy in south Georgia.

“I want to express my gratitude to the University of Georgia and UGA Extension for helping me compete for this prize.It is a fantastic chance for Georgia agriculture and our area.

One of the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards, which aims to support partners in their collaboration to develop economic, social, and technical potential for their areas, was given to NextGA, one of more than 40 distinctive teams. NSF Engines is a game-changing investment for the country that will guarantee that the United States stays at the forefront of competitiveness for decades to come.

According to NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, “These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging innovation hubs and potential future NSF Engines.” “These recipients are woven into the fabric of NSF’s mission to open doors to opportunity and foster creativity worldwide. In every corner of our country, they will create strong regional alliances founded in technology and scientific innovation.

“Through these planning grants, NSF is laying the groundwork for communities to innovate on-the-ground and to expand their regional economies through collaborations and research. This will free up ideas, talent, opportunities, and resources to build thriving innovation ecosystems across the country.

The recipients of NSF Engines Development awards come from a diverse variety of states and regions, reaching out to places that have not reaped the full benefits of the recent technological boom. Within two years, these grants will assist organizations in establishing linkages and growing their regional innovation ecosystems in order to enable them craft competitive applications for potential NSF Engines, which will each be eligible to receive up to $160 million.

The NSF Engines program, which was established by the NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships and is supported by the CHIPS and scientific Act of 2022, is a cutting-edge initiative that makes use of both national and regional resources for scientific and technology research and development. In order to have a beneficial influence on local economies, speed up technological advancement, address societal issues, increase national competitiveness, and generate high-paying local employment, NSF Engines seeks to catalyze strong relationships.

“NSF Engines Development Award: Advancing Next Generation Agriculture in Southern Georgia,” Grant No. 2303322, is the name of the program that funds NextGA. The NSF Engines Development Awards are shown on a map.

The full list of NextGA partners includes:

  • University of Georgia,
  • Fort Valley State University,
  • Center on Rural Innovation,
  • VentureWell,
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science,
  • AGCO Corporation,
  • Breedr, Inc.,
  • Colquitt County Board of Commissioners,
  • Colquitt Regional Medical Center,
  • Council on Competitiveness,
  • Cox Automotive Mobility,
  • Dalan Animal Health,
  • Enko Chem, Inc.,
  • Farmwave, Inc.,
  • Georgia Farm Bureau Federation,
  • Georgia Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities,
  • Georgia Intellectual Property Alliance,
  • Lemelson‐MIT Program,
  • Local Bounti,
  • Locate South Georgia,
  • Moultrie Colquitt County Development Authority,
  • National Academy of Inventors,
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine South Georgia,
  • Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc.,
  • SCORE South Georgia,
  • SK Battery America,
  • Smithsonian Environmental Research Center,
  • Southern Regional Technical College,
  • Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition,
  • Technical College System of Georgia,
  • Trimble, Inc.,
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service,
  • United States Intellectual Property Alliance, and
  • Valley, a Valmont company.

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