Engaging stakeholders and assuring team-wide collaboration were two goals met by the first meeting of the Biodegradable Mulch team at its first annual meeting, March 25-27, 2015. Thirty-five team members and advisors participated in the three-day session at the University of Tennessee; others joined via the remote connection. Below is a pictorial summary of the meeting.
Project Director, Doug Hayes, built an agenda that allowed each Working Group (WG) to engage the team and advisors for feedback on research strategies and implementation plans. Doug’s daily summaries of the input from each WG assured all participants were engaged with each Working Group’s activities.
 
Project review and input from Advisors was the critical purpose of the meeting. Advisors include industry experts, agricultural producers and representatives of producer groups, and university research and extension experts in plastics, horticulture and production agriculture.
 
The team visited the East Tennessee Research and Education Center (ETREC) Plant Sciences Unit, the site where the project’s field tests will occur in Tennessee. Here, project Co-PD, Annette Wszelaki (far left), and BJ Delozier (second from left), the manager of the Plant Sciences Unit, discuss the site plan with other team members.
 
The agenda allowed intensive work sessions for each Working Group (see Project Team page for a list of the Working Groups). Here, Jessica Goldberger (far right) confers with other members of the Technology Adoption Working Group, Jeremy Cowan and Susan Schexnayder.
 
The evaluations of the meeting revealed that some of the most valuable exchanges occurred during meetings between the Working Groups. Considerable space on the agenda was allowed for these cross-Working Group sessions, but conversations always extended into breaks. Here, Jessica Goldberger, leader of the Technology Adoption WG, and Jennifer DeBruyn, member of the Soil Ecology WG, discuss the Technology Adoption’s on-farm case studies.
 
For team and Advisory Committee members unable to participate in person, participation was facilitated by video-conference. Here, Field Activities Working Group Leader, Debbie Inglis, stands before a display screen showing the content as viewed by remote participants.
 
Working across traditional research disciplinary boundaries is an essential component of successful study of the performance and adoptability of biodegradable mulches. Dr. Douglas Jackson-Smith, Professor at Utah State University and member of the project’s Advisory Committee, emphasized the benefits and challenges of working in transdisciplinary groups (across disciplinary boundaries with engagement of stakeholders). Here, he notes that these opportunities must be cultivated, even when they require greater investment of time.
 
The team practiced cross-disciplinary engagement when members, including Advisors, had to learn about several other members’ work. Here Advisory Committee member Mark Amara, center, listens to another team member’s presentation, while other team members look on.
 
Another important step in engaging successfully as a team is getting to know one another. Here, team members relax after several hours of intense meetings.