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The world is on the verge of rapid transformation. Grand challenges such as a growing population, pressure on planetary systems and natural resources, urbanization, changing diets and lifestyles, etc. are creating the pressing need for fast and effective solutions in the agri-food sector. The research and development efforts as a part of the current Industry 4.0 revolution, which encompassesIoT and smart manufacturing, have led to the development of smart-Ag concepts where connected and autonomous systems can provide better yields, improved prediction and control, and resource efficiency according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Bank reports. As a result, the next generation of the agri-food workforce will play a translational role where both domain knowledge and advanced digital literacy in agri-food systems will be critical.At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted the significance of not only a hyper-efficient and digitalized but also a resilient agri-food industry. The next industrial paradigm will bring the environment and the human to the center of efforts for improved sustainability, deeming a "systems-thinking" approach necessary. One systems-level model is the circular economy (CE) concept where "closed-loop" and regenerative systems can minimize waste and pollution, extended lifecycle of products and materials, environmental and social benefits, and new business and economic advantages. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation on the origins of the CE, "the computer-based studies non-linear systems revealed the complex, interrelated, and unpredictable" nature of our environments; and now the digitalization paradigms can transform our current environment by "radically increasing virtualization, de-materialization, transparency, and feedback-driven intelligence". Digitalization of products, processes and distribution channels will advance the industries and enable transformation towards more sustainable and circular systems via automated monitoring, control, and optimization of connected systems, distribution channels, and data access. Hence, digitalization will be complementary to current circularity efforts to align the urgent needs of the agri-food industry. To achieve the ambitious goal of global sustainability, the next generation of the agri-food workforce needs to be equipped not only with the knowledge and skills on state-of-the-art digitalization tools but also with an essential understanding of emerging circularity concepts and opportunities across all the levels of the agri-food value chain.Therefore, the central objective of the Fostering Circularity and Digitalization Skills in Future Agri-Food Systems Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates (CD-Skills in Agri-Food REEU) project is to target the translational workforce gap by providing education, training, and research-focused experience in digitalization, sustainability, and circularity concepts for students from diverse social, cultural, and educational backgrounds and experiences through hands-on and experiential learning environments.The specific objectives of the CD-Skills in Agri-Food REEU are:Expanding students' level of understanding of circular economy concepts in food and agricultural systems by hands-on training modules, demonstrations, and case studies in a series of "Team Collaborative Events".Improving students' understanding of Industry 4.0 tools by hands-on demonstrations, training modules, and case studies as a part of the "Team Collaborative Events"Matching participants with key research projects across the value chain in food and agricultural systems encompassing production to postharvest and processing, packaging, and post-consumer waste treatment where digitalization and circularity components will be of transformative value.Boosting students' skills and practices through hands-on training and research-based experiences with exposure to real-world problems and practices through field trips to local agri-food businesses, thereby expanding students' network and view beyond research and educational settings.Improving students' creative thinking, collaboration, and ability to work in trans-disciplinary groups via a week-long "Value-Chain Focused Challenge" bootcamp where students work on a complex-systems re-design challenge within agri-food systems to complement circular system solutions with digitalization tools.Each objective will be addressed by specific research, training, and field trip activities. Concurrently, the planned activities will support the intellectual focus of the CD-Skills in Agri-Food REEU which is to fill the workforce gap in terms of both fundamentals of the circular economy and advanced digital literacy skills such that the current "take-make-waste" paradigm can be transformed into a more circular system within the agri-food sector.

Boz Ozdemir, Z.; Martin-ryals, An, D.; Roberts Ii, Th, G.
University of Florida
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