University of Tennessee AgResearch Announces Award Recipients for Inaugural SPRINT Program

Four Focus Areas to Find Solutions to Challenges in Agriculture and Natural Resources

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The University of Tennessee AgResearch announces four programs as recipients of the new Strategic Planning Research Initiatives, known as SPRINT. The programs will benefit from an investment of $700,000 over two years to conduct preliminary experiments and pursue additional grant funding, as well as new partners. The programs rely on tightly integrated, multi-disciplinary teams to develop creative solutions to major challenges in agriculture and natural resources.

The program involves researchers from every department in UT AgResearch, as well as scientists from across the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and several universities in the Southeast. The goal with the multi-disciplinary teams is to accelerate the solutions to some of the most challenging topics in agriculture and natural resources.  

Dean of UT AgResearch, Hongwei Xin, said, “I’m excited to add these projects to our R&D portfolio and watch as these tightly integrated teams contribute solutions to these challenging topics. I fully expect that new partners and additional resources will build on our investment to create long-term impacts, yielding appreciable returns on the investment.” 

The SPRINT Award recipients are as follows: 

  • Precision Livestock Farming: Investing for Future Success

Research will involve creating a database for managing livestock on the UT AgResearch centers, surveying livestock and broiler producers, developing a computer vision system to monitor beef cattle respiration and body condition, implementing a rail-mounted robotic system for poultry, quantifying the economic potential of automated milking, and incorporating the findings into UT Extension programs. The Precision Livestock Farming Team is led by Robert Burns, of the UT Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science. 

  • Advancing Innovation in Renewable Carbon Aviation Fuel Technologies 

The AIRCRAFT program outlines a project to create sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and coproducts. AIRCRAFT will have three research thrusts for developing innovative fractionation and conversion technologies for SAF production; co-product production; and sustainability analysis. Additionally, AIRCRAFT will advance training the diverse future workforce while working to engage industry partners in the region. The program is led by Nourredine Abdoulmoumine of the UT Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science.

  • Impact of Micro- and Nanoplastic Pollution from Agricultural Plastics in Soils, Nearby Waterways, and their Related Ecosystems

The overall goal of this project is to determine the fate, impact and transport-related behavior of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) at critical interfaces between soil and groundwater and waterways such as streams on farms. The team plans to prepare major proposals and publish seminal review articles that address long-term goals, such as finding “hotspots” for micro- and nanoplastic pollution accumulation and mitigation strategies. The team is led by Doug Hayes and Sean Schaeffer of the UT Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science. 

  • Improving Energy Efficiency, Crop Yield, Nutritional Quality, and Resiliency of Nationwide Food System through Controlled Environment Agriculture in the Midsouth

This project is focused on improving the energy efficiency of controlled environment agriculture production for small- and medium-sized farms. Research will focus on optimizing environmental and cultural variables and inputs to improve crop yield, evaluating and implementing alternative renewable energy sources including solar, and determining consumer perceptions and willingness to pay for premium plants produced in controlled-environment agriculture. The team is led by Carl Sams of the UT Department of Plant Sciences. 

The highly competitive program involved an initial screening of 18 program concepts from which 6 were selected for full submissions that were subject to an external review of experts. Plans are underway for the next SPRINT grant cycle that will identify additional priorities where our scientists can add value, says Tim Rials, associate dean of UT AgResearch.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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