Williams, Minn. — Northern Excellence Seed, LLC, one of Minnesota’s first companies preparing to generate power on-site from biomass, was presented the 2008 AURI Ag Innovator of the Year award at a June 18 ceremony in Bemidji.

The 29-member cooperative, formed in 2002, contracts for 18,000 acres of Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, timothy and other specialty grass seeds. The Northern Excellence processing plant in Williams cleans and bags about 8 million pounds of seed annually.

The cleaning and processing also generates about 2 million pounds of grass-seed chaff and screenings. Instead of paying $10,000 to $15,000 for disposal, Northern Excellence is installing equipment to gasify chaff and straw and make electricity. The Lake of the Woods County business may be the only factory in the country to gasify grass-seed waste.

Converting waste into watts will furnish energy to run the seed-cleaning plant and save the company at least $60,000 a year in electricity and waste disposal costs, says Brent Benike, Northern Excellence Seed general manager.

“When you farm in Northern Minnesota your whole life, you have no choice but to be innovative,” Benike says. “You have to be able to adapt either through processing or how you use your crops.”

The Ag Innovator award is given each year to a client selected by AURI’s board of directors that has shown innovation in their product or process, uses significant amounts of agricultural products and has made a positive impact on Minnesota.

“They were innovative in identifying new grasses to produce by looking at varieties such as perennial ryegrass,” says Michael Sparby, AURI project director. “Then they had the willingness as a young cooperative to take a look at waste streams to reduce their energy loads.”

Northern Excellence Seed is the seventh Minnesota company to receive the award. Previous winners include Pet Care Systems, Mississippi Topsoils, FUMPA Biofuels and USA Solutions.