Senators, industry leaders laud developments in space ag, saying 'North Dakota is the place to be'

Armacost: UND and NDSU are a "formidable pair" in the field.

UND logo
UND logo

GRAND FORKS – Despite blizzard conditions moving the event to a virtual format, dozens of space agriculture professionals convened at a UND conference on Tuesday, April 4, to outline the many research opportunities and developments in the field.

The annual event, sponsored by Grand Farm – a Fargo-based agricultural education and research initiative – featured academics, elected officials and industry leaders from around the world.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the research activity around space ag that is present in the region affords exciting opportunities for students.

“This intersection of space and agriculture is so important and so timely,” Hoeven said. “It fits well with the things we bring to the table in North Dakota in exciting ways. And what a great thing for young people who want to come to school here in the (Red River Valley). Let’s reach out and let young people all across the country know what we’re doing, because this is the place to be.”

Andrew Jason, head of special projects for Grand Farm, said emerging research in the field of space ag will not only benefit future space missions, but also the future of agriculture on Earth.


“We’re going to have a permanent settlement on the moon in the next 5-10 years, so how are we going to sustain that population?” said Jason. “Even more exciting to that is how is the technology that’s going to sustain these populations on the moon, Mars and beyond going to impact the sustainability of agriculture on Earth? If we can grow food in a spot with zero gravity, zero oxygen and water and low nutrients, that’s going to have a direct impact on the future of agriculture.”

UND President Andrew Armacost said the collaboration between NDSU and UND is vital.

“Today is about the intersection of agriculture and space,” Armacost said. “Certainly, NDSU with their world renowned expertise in agriculture, and our expertise in space make us a formidable pair. It’s like one university just extended across a period of space.”

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said developments in the field have progressed at a pace previously unimaginable to his Senate colleagues.

“You all have a role to play in the advancement of space ag research,” Cramer said via a pre-recorded video. “When I led the effort to establish the Space Force in 2019, I witnessed some very surprised colleagues who just couldn’t wrap their minds around the importance of what we were trying to do. While others see your ideas as something out of far-fetched sci-fi film, you see it as a challenge to improve our world. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish without a little hardworking North Dakota grit and common sense.”

Ralph Fritsche, senior project manager for space crop production in support of deep space exploration at NASA, said research in the field of space ag is transitioning from the theoretical to practical.

“Now we’ve come to this threshold where there is definitely interest in the commercial sector for low Earth orbit,” said Fritsche. “I think from a research perspective, there’s always been the interest to have a platform in space to conduct fundamental research, so academia was really looking for more opportunities, and I think those will only expand.”

Fritsche said in order to pursue permanent space settlements, food-growing technologies will need to advance to the point of making the missions self-sufficient.


“What we have to do is develop the research opportunities that enable us to demonstrate how we’ll be successful – how can we start to cut that cord from Earth?” said Fritsche. “We can’t necessarily afford to continually bring everything, so a bioregenerative life support system is the only way we’ll be able to make this a permanent stay – whether that’s the moon or Mars.”

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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