Food and Agriculture Features and Impacts

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted food supply chains across the U.S. It is essential for our food system to provide adequate nourishment to the people and support the livelihood of people who supply food. In response, a multidisciplinary team of researchers and Extension specialists from five universities have partnered to generate science-based knowledge and resources to enhance preparedness of the U.S. food supply chains for future disruptions. 

Growing North Minneapolis is a community-driven program which aims to build food, environmental, social and cognitive justice through sustainable urban growing and greening. Learning and career development are experiential and contextualized in real-world experiences related to the FEW nexus. Urban youth, predominantly of color and low socioeconomic status, are hired through a local workforce development program, and work together with UMN undergraduates and North Minneapolis community mentors to form intergenerational communities of practice.

Over the last two years, researchers at the UMN have been working with several Minnesota agencies to facilitate surveillance and enhance our understanding of the risk for CWD spreading — a key concern for Minnesota legislators. In Minnesota, these partners include the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH), Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, several tribal natural resources agencies around the state and Extension specialists.

Previously, UMN researchers developed an anaerobic digester that handled another kind of waste — pig manure — but Twin Cities-based food bank Second Harvest Heartland was interested in seeing if such a system could help with the 1,500 tons of food waste, they discard to the tune of $200,000 annually.

Members of the University’s Center for Genome Engineering have long led the charge in developing new, powerful genome modification technologies. The center’s work involves gene therapy, gene discovery and precision gene editing using UMN-developed TALEN® (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) and techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9. More recently a second research center, Center for Precision Plant Genomics (CPPG), was added, which focuses on developing tools and technologies to aid in developing GE crops.

Currently, pea protein is mass produced in a way that can alter its native structure, thus reducing its functionality in food applications. In order to make pea protein competitive with soy protein, researchers at the Plant Protein Innovation Center focused on finding ways to optimize both the conditions used for pea protein extractions and for functionalization, to produce pea protein isolates (PPI) with high protein purity, preserved structural, and enhanced functional properties. 

With the ultimate goal of developing more sustainable food production systems, UMN researchers explored plant-soil-microbe relationships driving soil fertility in organic systems. To do this, they developed a farmer-driven project to investigate the role summer cover crops can play in enhancement of soil nutrients and overall health when grown for short periods of time. Significantly, they partnered with a variety of immigrant farmer grower groups for on-farm studies and shared their soil health information directly with producers.

Since 2016, the Minnesota Invasive Plants and Pests Center has helped fund a team of research and Extension soybean specialists to explore two ways to help Minnesota soybean farmers deal with soybean pests--especially soybean aphids. The first is focused on developing aphid-resistance soybeans and the second is exploring the use of drone technology to help with pest scouting. 

Over the past five years, UMN researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine have spearheaded a project that selects cows for dry cow therapy. Selective dry cow therapy (SDCT) is an approach whereby only those cows or quarters with a known or suspected intramammary infection are treated with antibiotics at dry off. 

The microbiome in the gut or respiratory tract provides a protective layer against infectious diseases in swine. Thus, with microbiome research, researchers can determine how novel feed additives and management interventions work, by either enhancing the abundance of microbes that promote health and/or displacing those that cause disease. Even though microbiome research in swine production systems has shown an altered microbiome in poor performing or sick pigs, we need more studies that better characterize the systematic changes in microbiome diversity over time (from birth to after weaning) to predict health and performance outcomes.