ST. PAUL, Minn. – Teenagers from across Minnesota gathered at the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul with ambitions of bringing innovation and science to the state’s agricultural industry.
Teams competed for scholarships in the 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge, a first of its kind program created by the U of M Extension, and the culmination of year-long research projects to inspire the next generations of agriculture leaders in the state.
The teens were charged with finding science-based solutions to problems plaguing agricultural communities.
A team from Dakota County took the top scholarship prize, $1,000, for an invention created to warm vaccines for dairy farmers.
“Because dairy barns are not heated during the winter, vaccines freeze and they become ineffective or subject animal to the disease because it could destroy the vaccine itself,” said Peter Breimhurst, of the Dakota County team, a U of M sophomore.
Breimhurst said frozen or thickened vaccines can also be painful to a cow. His team spoke to a Dundas, Minnesota dairy farmer to hear more about the problem, which helped brainstorm the solution gaining widespread attention.
“We have actually gotten an offer from a company already, offering to help us start our own company or market it for us. We are in the beginning stages of that, we have some modifications to make before it’s ready for market,” said Breimhurst.
A team from Meeker County took second place, a $700 scholarship, for creating a GPS ear tag for lost livestock, designed to track cattle that get loose.
“My family actually had cattle get out July 4 last year, and there are all the way up north four hours away so we couldn’t get to them right away,” said Abbey Schiefelbein, 16, from Meeker County.
Schiefelbein said with cattle costing $1,400 each, the loss can be great to farmers as well as a safety hazard for the public should cattle wander onto a highway.
She held a kitchen table brainstorm with fellow 4-H members. They contacted the DNR and researched how the agency tracks moose in Minnesota, but realized collars would be problematic for cows.
“We didn’t think that would work for us because cattle are often rubbing themselves against fencing or bales, so we thought the ear tag would be the best solution for us,” said Andrew Massmann, of the Meeker County team. “It would be really helpful for farmers because it’s less labor costs and if you can recover the animal getting out, it saves a lot of money and time finding that animal.”
The team is currently using their technology with Whistle GPS Pet Tracker app, but plans on developing its own app to pinpoint lost animals.
“Then you can plug that back into your phone and go find your cows,” said Schiefelbein. “For cost wise its 80 dollars for prototype, but with mass production costs will go down.”
In addition to the winning teams, projects ranged from water quality to invasive plant species to drone technology projects. If any students from the three teams enroll successfully in the U of M Agriculture related programs, they will get an additional $1,000 college scholarship.
A study last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University found that nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture-related jobs open up annually, but there are only about 35,000 college graduates available to fill them. It’s why more states are looking to the University of Minnesota to model the 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge.