NC_OLD1100: Enhancing Rural Development Technology Assessment and Adoption Through Land Grant Partnerships

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

NC_OLD1100: Enhancing Rural Development Technology Assessment and Adoption Through Land Grant Partnerships

Duration: 10/01/2010 to 09/30/2015

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

In this new wave of technology, you cant do it by yourself, you have to form alliances.
-Carlos Slim Helu, Mexican Billionaire

The Land Grant system has traditionally served as the agent of change in rural America. Land Grant technology changed how America farmed, releasing millions of people into other occupations (Lobao and Myer, 2001). Increasing farm size and corporatization of our food system yielded huge efficiencies. The fact that far fewer people now farm has changed the way Land Grants must approach delivery of new technologies appropriate to rural communities. At one end of the continuum, we have large enterprises capable of conducting their own research and development, or of simply paying the Land Grants to execute research programs on their behalf. At the other end of the continuum, rural America has family farms and other enterprises that are disconnected from commodity agriculture, and could benefit from Land Grant technology to enhance their productivity in niche markets.

Niche markets are in many ways the future growth markets for rural America. A good example of this is organic agriculture, which started as a fringe movement and has now made its way onto the shelves of most major food retailers. Rural niche enterprises could be agricultural, but also work in a vast array of other sectors, and can be a way for rural areas to compete. In some cases, niche markets can be quite large. For example, a manufacturer of stadium-sized plasma screens in North Dakota dominates a niche, and is a major contributor to the local economy.

In the early days of the Land Grant system, an improvement in cropping techniques or a better variety could be moved from the lab to the field station, and from the field station, via Extension, to early adopter family farms. Early adopter farms would then demonstrate to their neighbors. With niche markets, more often than not, none of the middle parts of the system exist, creating a need develop new ways to move technology more directly from laboratory to end user.

The challenge is in making the market between the niche enterprise and the creators of applicable technologies. In market economics terminology, the market is thin, with few buyers or sellers of a particular improvement or process expertise. The array of rural niche enterprises is matched by an equally complex set of highly specialized disciplines emerging on the Land Grant campuses. Enterprises are unaware of the technologies that might be available. University Intellectual Property managers hunt for entrepreneurs or engage in sometimes quixotic programs attempting to teach faculty how to become businesspeople. Also missing from the information system are feedback loops to inform researchers about emerging technical needs.

Related, Current and Previous Work

The literature on technology transfer is voluminous (see Bozeman, 2000 for a review), with academic journals dedicated to the topic. In the North Central Region, several Land Grants have established statewide entrepreneurial systems. Some of these, such as Michigan State Universitys Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, focus on value-added activities for food-related businesses. The Product Center Recently celebrated over 1,000 jobs created or retained since its inception in 2004. Others (University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin, and the University of Nebraska) serve as host for the states Small Business Development Center Network. In other states, the model is less formalized, with networks of Extension field staff bringing their clients into contact with value-added faculty on an ad hoc basis. States within the region have tailored their approaches to the highest needs/opportunities within their boundaries, and also been able to grow through the efforts of nationally recognized faculty leaders. Some examples of this on the entrepreneurship support side include:

" Iowa State University  Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
" Michigan State University  Innovation Counselor Training
" North Dakota State University  Quentin Burdick Center for Cooperatives
" University Nebraska  Lincoln  The Food Processing Center

A more integrated approach to supporting entrepreneurs might result in more rapid expansion of rural enterprises at lower cost to participating institutions. A more integrated approach also may bring benefits in terms of more standardized databases about rural entrepreneurs. Standardized databases can benefit social scientists interested in research about fostering community systems to support entrepreneurs, but can also bring more direct benefits in terms of reducing search times to find businesses interested in licensing of university technology. Push information sharing techniques through appropriate database matching might help businesses discover a cost-saving technology even if they are not activity seeking it.

Some innovations, for market reasons, need to stay close to home. This is particularly evident in the consumers willingness to pay for locally branded and sourced fruit, vegetables, and meats. A shared or partially shared entrepreneurial database could be structured to account for these emerging consumer preferences.

Within disciplines, faculty incentives are strong for specialization, yielding a huge array of deep technical expertise in the region, embracing topic areas that are very different from one state to the next. Some examples of internationally recognized specialty areas:

" Purdue University invested $58M into a nanotechnology research center.
" Kansas State is a leader in testing and use of RFID systems.
" Wisconsin is the lead institution for a $120M DOE bio-energy grant focusing on biomass sources and improved extraction.
" University of Nebraska-Lincoln is developing ways to develop pharmaceutical products from discarded cellulosic biomass.
" South Dakota State University has enjoyed success with a swine vaccine.
" Michigan State University has an entire school devoted to packaging.


  1. Map Different operational modes of University IP offices
  2. Understand how Land Grants Interface with Entrepreneurs
  3. How different types of niche operators might access IP systems
  4. Scope for shared training/support programs among Land Grants


Our objective is to look for ways that loose networks of Land Grants can more effectively partner across state lines. We believe this is a unique approach that will benefit the Land Grants but also possibly provide models for private sector technology sharing. Loose networks are not unknown in the private sectorMasterCard being the classic example. Kanter (1994) provides a wealth of less well-known examples of the effectiveness of collaboration in the private sector. The methods employed will be similar to value chain studies or industrial organization studies familiar in business or marketing. Particular attention will be paid to opportunities for standardized revenue sharing agreements, so that appropriate feedback loops can reinforce participation in cross-state collaboration. The emerging collaboration technologies associated with the internet (e.g. Linked-In, Facebook) have started to make it easier to share information across space through loose networks (Tapscott and Williams, 2008). This new mode of communication will be explored as a potential avenue for making connections across the technology creation/use space. Elements of popular internet auction sites might be incorporated into the overall system. These might include bidding for short term technical assistance, and anonymous feedback about customer service. Alternative, the system might be organized to focus on developing stronger social networks among providers. Creating an optimal system requires study and experimentation.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Papers on university IP
  • Papers on Land Grant Universities and Entrepreneurs
  • Papers on Niche Operators and Technology Adoption
  • Papers on Land Grant Business Training & Support Programs

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Best practices
  • Land Grant Policy Reformulation
  • Integration of training systems; adoption of best practices


(2011): Business plan. Pilot project ideas.

(2012): Develop pilots.

(2013): Evaluate and revise pilot programs

(2014): Evaluate and revise pilot programs

(2015): Final evaluation and proposals for broader adoption of best practices.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

Refereed publications and policy dialog with key Land Grant decision-makers are envisioned.


This is a new committee. Loveridge will chair the committee and work closely with the professional hired under this project. Other members will have equal votes on project design. The team will conduct most of its business virtually. Additional members will be added as interested parties are identified.

Literature Cited

Bozeman, Barry. 2000. Technology transfer and public policy: a review of research and theory. Research Policy. 29: 627-655.

Kanter, Rosabeth Ross. 1994. Collaborative Advantage: The Art of Alliances. Harvard Business Review. July-August. 97-108.

Lobao, Linda, and Katherine Meyer. The Great Agricultural Transition: Crisis, Change, and Social Consequences of Twentieth Century US Farming. Annual Review of Sociology. 27:103-124.

Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. 2008. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Penguin Group.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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