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USDA Announces Four University Teams Win the First National I-FAST Prize Competition

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2016–The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the winners of the first Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) $200,000 prize competition. I-FAST helps scientists and engineers broaden the impact of their NIFA-funded research by encouraging collaboration between academia and industry to translate fundamental agricultural innovations into the marketplace.

"Innovation is an economic driver and a necessity in the agriculture industry," said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. "Through this new partnership with the National Science Foundation, we are able to help move ideas from the research lab to the marketplace, where they can provide real solutions as these teams intended."

Each of the four winning teams receive $50,000 to start a business and move their innovation towards full commercialization. Team members will also participate in NSF's Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a six-month entrepreneurial immersion course to develop skills that help them commercialize their inventions and discoveries. Teams are also eligible to apply for additional funding through the USDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, administered by NIFA.

The winning teams include:

  • University of Houston, Houston, Texas – The team developed a behavior-based affordable educational toolkit and augmented reality technology system to educate, monitor and improve employees' fresh- and fresh-cut produce handling practices.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois – The team is bringing to market two software packages that make it possible for crop advisors to inexpensively run large-scale, on-farm agronomic trials and create strategies for profitable nitrogen fertilizer management.
  • Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri – The team developed a pathogen detection biotechnology test kit to determine if E. coli 0157:H7 is present in food to help lower the risk of contamination all along the food chain from the farm to the consumer.
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York – The team developed a micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) microtensiometer sensor that monitors minute-by-minute readings of both plant water and soil stresses to help producers optimize irrigation to improve the yield and quality of crops.

The I-FAST pilot program is being implemented under the America Competes Act. Visit for more information and additional federal challenges.

Since 2009, USDA has invested $19 billion in research and development touching the lives of all Americans from farms to the kitchen table and from the air we breathe to the energy that powers our country. Learn more about the many ways USDA scientists are on the cutting edge, helping to protect, secure and improve our food, agricultural and natural resources systems in the USDA Medium Chapter: Facilitating Discovery: Boosting Competiveness through Better Research and Improved Technology Results Chapter 11.

NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education and extension programs support the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety.

To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.


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