WinField United’s wind tunnel gift is a win-win

Wednesday, November 21, 2018 - 11:00am

WinField United’s recent donation of a wind tunnel will elevate the U of M’s expertise in high-tech agriculture research, and create a partnership aimed at ultimately helping farmers sustainably grow more with less.

The gift came about after WinField United opened its Innovation Center in River Falls, Wis., in 2017, which included an upgraded wind tunnel. Daniel Bissell, a senior research engineer at the new research facility, suggested that the existing wind tunnel be donated to the U of M. Bissell gained first-hand knowledge of the U’s capabilities when he was an aerosol research lab assistant before graduating with his bachelor’s degree from the aerospace engineering program in 2010.

Recognizing an opportunity: Together, Bissell and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) saw an opportunity to help students gain skills and experience in high-tech agriculture research. The gift also opened the door to a WinField collaboration with U of M researchers to better understand spray drift, how particulates move in the atmosphere, and how to target crop-protection products.

The wind tunnel is now installed in the Aerosol Diagnostics Laboratory, which is part of one of the leading centers of small-particle research in the United States. A celebration of the gift and the new collaboration was held at the lab on November 16, 2018.

Why the U of M?  “CSE’s Mechanical Engineering department has a long history of particle technology expertise, starting with aerosol technology,” said Prof. Uwe Kortshagen, who chairs the Mechanical Engineering department. “In fact, three of our faculty have received engineering’s highest honor—membership in the National Academy of Engineering. This wind tunnel will help build our expertise and research capability in agricultural sprays.”

Raising awareness: “It’s great to have a wind tunnel in the middle of our engineering campus,” adds Kortshagen. “It can build awareness of the field of agriculture engineering, especially in the eyes of our students.”

Helping farmers and the environment: WinField’s spray initiative is addressing efficiency and environmental concerns. As Mike Vande Logt, WinField’s EVP and COO, explains: “our work is about optimizing yields—in other words, ‘how do we grow more with less?’ We hire lots of ag graduates, but our work also requires expertise in the physical sciences. Our relationship with the University is a special one. At the end of the day, we’re in the business of growing crops, and we feel good about our interdisciplinary partnership with the U of M.”

“We’re confident this donation will be beneficial for the University, for farmers, for the agricultural industry, and for WinField United. Together, agriculture and science have the potential to change the way we think about sustainability. When our two disciplines win, everyone wins.”

—WinField United Senior Research Engineer Daniel Bissell, ‘10, aerospace engineering and mechanics

Learn more about the benefits of this gift

Photos: Angelic Jewel Photography