UND Grand Farms Space Ag Conference 2023

Space Ag Conference bannerNeither rain, nor sleet nor snow could stop the Grand Farms Space Ag Conference 2023, associated with the University of North Dakota. Nature sure tried hard with a big blizzard, but the conference kicked into high gear in virtual mode.

This is the third Grand Farms Space Ag Conference. According to Andrew Jason, Director of Ecosystem at Grand Farms, the three goals of the conference concerned:

  1. Highlight how space technology impacts earth agriculture (satellites, indoor agriculture, etc.).
  2. We’ll have a permanent settlement on the moon in the next 5-10 years. How will we sustain that population? This technology will impact earth agriculture.
  3. We need a net new migration of people into agriculture. Let’s use space to excite kids in agriculture.
The conference featured speakers from NASA, academia and industry. Barbara Belvisi of Interstellar Lab spoke about their plant growth chambers and plant space pods. Ralph Fritsche, NASA’s Senior Project Manager for Space Crop Production, presented the big picture and helped from the rest of the discussions. Richard Barker spoke about the University of Wisconsin’s drought-resistant cotton project, which is one of the more promising commercial plant genetics projects.

Other speakers included:

  • Senator Kevin Cramer
  • UND President Armacost
  • Senator Hoeven
  • Marshall Porterfield of Pulsar Exploration
  • Amy Podolf of Growing Beyond Earth
  • Breanna Pastir of Wahpeton High School
  • Barney Geddes of North Dakota State University
  • Benjamin Greaves of Starlab Oasis,
  • Kris Kimel of Humanity in Deep Space, 
  • Keith Crisman of the University of North Dakota, 
  • Duncan Hitchens of Lynntech, Inc.,
  • Adam Williams of University of Minnesota, and
  • Mark Ciotola of Sustainspace.

There were several important recurrent themes. First, space agriculture also includes using plant R&D in space for Earth agriculture. Second, K-12 educators have a strong role to play, both in education and original R&D, such as the plant maker space at Growing Beyond Earth. Third, while hardware and biology ring loudest, regolith and soil work are a vital component of the space ag eco-structure. Fourth, while most space government plant R&D appears to be funded by the USA, the start-ups with the most funding, i.e. Interstellar Lab and Starlab Oasis appear to have European or Middle-Eastern components. Fifth, Grand Farms is building its own facility, so perhaps there will be tours at the next conference (which will be in a likely non-blizzard time of the year, such as September or October).

Edited: April 5, 2023 to include conference goals and facility image.

large building in field

Grand Farm Innovation Facility (credit: Grand Farms)

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