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WID and UW-Madison Launch National Agricultural Innovation Prize

Along with UW-Madison, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the USDA, WID is launching the Agricultural Innovation Prize, a national student competition for ideas that address challenges in 21st-century agriculture.

Ag Prize Farm Fields -- iStock Photo

As the world’s population continues to increase, so does the need for sustainable and secure food systems. A new student contest run by the University of Wisconsin-Madison advances the idea that long-term solutions in agriculture cannot just draw on innovations from one discipline.

On Oct. 3, 2013, the university is launching a competition for teams of undergraduate and graduate students across the country to submit proposals and business ideas that address challenges in 21st century agriculture such as food scarcity and availability, transportation and sustainability.

Molly Jahn

Molly Jahn

Called the Agricultural Innovation Prize: Powered by 40 Chances, the competition is administered by students at UW–Madison through WID, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation is funding the prize, which offers more than $200,000 of support with the first-place proposal receiving $100,000 — the largest amount to-date for an agriculturally-focused student competition.

The competition is being launched in tandem with the upcoming release of the book 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, by Howard G. Buffett, co-authored with his son Howard W. Buffett, who contributed several chapters to the book, which documents new approaches for combating hunger and poverty in the most difficult places on Earth.

“Considering the complexity and scale of agricultural problems in the United States and around the world, I am thrilled that this program will encourage students across the country to come up with solutions they are empowered to implement,” says Howard W. Buffett, trustee of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

“It’s all about innovation — from idea to execution…this is the type of contest that spans across entire universities, not just for departments that have been historically identified as related to agriculture.”

–Molly Jahn

The Ag Prize seeks to not only spur new collaborations, but it also places emphasis on inspiring, educating and nurturing the next generation of agriculture innovators and entrepreneurs. “It’s all about innovation — from idea to execution,” says Molly Jahn, a professor of genetics and Discovery Fellow who leads efforts at UW–Madison on the student-driven prize. “This is the type of contest that spans across entire universities, not just for departments that have been historically identified as related to agriculture.”

Jahn says she is eager to see how a variety of fields, including mathematics, the social sciences and health sciences can contribute to thinking about food systems in innovative ways.  The competition is in response to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report on Agricultural Preparedness & the United States Agricultural Research Enterprise, where Jahn served as a working group member.

After finalists are selected, teams will be invited to the UW–Madison campus in April 2014 for the final stage of the competition to present their projects and be scored by a high-profile judging panel.

Ultimately, the contest reflects the university’s larger commitment to collaborations across disciplines and professions.

“If you think about the global issues we face today, they’re increasingly complex and require diverse teams to formulate viable solutions,” says David Krakauer, WID director. “The Ag Prize takes this a step further by investing in students, the influencers of our future, who are already thinking outside the box across disciplines but need that initial boost to bring agricultural innovations to life.”

The contest will run through spring 2014, with a Feb. 28, 2014  deadline to enter. More information can be found at the Agricultural Innovation Prize website.

Marianne Spoon


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