For 20 years, working in the realm of innovation, AURI has seen an endless supply of unique and interesting ideas for agricultural products. Economic times have changed and social influences have varied, but there have always been new markets and valueadded opportunities for Minnesota’s farm goods.
AURI has helped develop food products, industrial materials, biofuels and even uses for animal wastes. Some ideas we evaluated have been truly unique — snake-food pellets made from animal mortalities, building materials from recycled plastic and barley, grass-seed chaff burned for energy and even rhubarb spread. Some found niche markets. Others achieved widespread retail success. Many never made it past their initial assessment. Such is the nature of pioneering ventures.
Innovation involves a certain amount of risk and not every idea pursued will achieve commercial success. But AURI has worked with thousands of Minnesota entrepreneurs, businesses and cooperatives to tip the scales of success in their favor.
We are often asked to identify the “top projects” AURI has assisted. That is difficult because many projects have had significant impact. And some of our most important work is advising against investment in value-added ventures that our evaluations show are not feasible. Both scenarios demonstrate AURI successfully carrying out its mission. While we can’t single out the most successful venture, here are a few project examples that show the range of AURI assistance — from product development to feasibility testing …
Pet Care Systems of Detroit Lakes produces Swheat Scoop cat litter and Swheat Stall horse bedding. The cat litter is sold in about 30,000 stores nationwide and shipped to Russia, Japan, South Korea, England and other Asian and European countries. The litter is scoopable, flushable and biodegradable. In April 2009 alone, more than 60,000 bushels of nonfood grade wheat went into the litter. Pet Care products were developed and tested at AURI’s coproduct lab in Waseca.
Northern Excellence Growers, a grass-seed growers group in northwestern Minnesota, annually produces 8 million pounds of Kentucky bluegrass, Timothy, rye and other grass seeds. Northern Excellence also operates a grassseed cleaning plant in Williams that generates about 2 million pounds of screening waste each year. It costs the growers $10,000 to $15,000 for screening disposal, so they are installing a 100-kilowatt gasifierto convert waste screenings to
syngas and will produce electricity that should save about $60,000 a year in disposal and energy costs. When completed this fall, it will be the nation’s first grass-powered gasification system. AURI has been involved in several project phases, from feasibility to cost-share assistance.
Alternative Energy Solutions, a family business, is affiliated with Pork and Plants of Altura, Minn. The company processes agricultural biomass, such as native grasses, corn stover and soybean straw, into pellets on the Kreidermacher farm. The pellets are burned in two large on-farm boilers to heat water that is circulated through pipes to heat 65,000 square feet of commercial greenhouse, also located on the family farm. AURI technical services helped with pellet formulations.
Mahnomen Baked Chips produces formed, baked, stackable chips — an alternative to fried snacks. A new $8.5 million, 30,000 square-foot facility in Mahnomen, owned by the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, was built in an economically-disadvantaged area. When it begins operation this fall, it is expected to create 30 jobs initially and up to 55 when at capacity. The chip recipe was developed at AURI’s food lab in Crookston.
French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis produces a full line of breads, wraps and other bakery items. Products such and Men’s and Women’s breads use healthy “functional food” ingredients to meet specific dietary needs, and some are distributed nationwide. French Meadow also operates restaurants in Minneapolis and at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport. Many of its products were formulated with AURI technical assistance.
Limpert Environmental in Litchfield produces erosion-control products and soil amendments using locallygrown straw, composted bison manure and other agricultural ingredients. Limpert Environmental reopened a closed Litchfield factory and created about a dozen jobs. AURI provided technical assistance for product development.
Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall produces about 50 turkey products including whole birds, bone-in breasts, tray packs, ground chubs and bulk, commodity meats and ethnic Halal products. Turkey Valley processes about 100 million pounds of Minnesota turkeys annually with 300 employees. AURI provided newproduct formulation and testing.
Farmers Union Industries, which operates a 3 million gallon-per-year biodiesel plant in Redwood Falls, is testing crude glycerin — the primary coproduct of biodiesel production — as a feed ingredient and potentially a combustion fuel. AURI has provided quality-assurance assistance for biodiesel production.
Mississippi Topsoils of Cold Spring produces premium compost products using arbor trimmings and waste from a nearby chicken-processing facility. Using a containerized system, the company takes waste that was costly for the poultry processor to dispose and converts it to a revenue stream. AURI tested various feedstocks for the company’s compost system and assisted with new product feasibility.
USA Solutions in St. Joseph makes corn-stalk based Compost-A-Mats for swine farrowing and nursery facilities. Distributed nationwide, the single-use, biodegradable mat is an alternative to rubber and tests show it improves animal comfort and health. AURI connected USA Solutions with a northern Minnesota company that could produce the mats and provided technical assistance and testing.
Not all AURI efforts focus on commercializing products for individual businesses. Some projects help entire industries examine emerging opportunities. For example:
Biofuels. AURI has provided thousands of hours to biodiesel development since the early 1990s, including technical assistance to every biodiesel producer in the state. AURI has helped with quality assurance, troubleshooting and identifying uses for coproducts such as crude glycerin. AURI and collaborating partners also completed a comprehensive review of the biofuel industry’s training and education needs, including job market potential. The Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable, which AURI facilitates, is using the information for curriculum development.
Coproduct and biomass utilization AURI aggressively supports development of new uses for ag-processing coproducts and biomass. AURI’s coproduct lab and pilot plant in Waseca is helping to densify biomass for fuels, testing new uses for processing leftovers, and assessing biomass collection, storage, transportation, combustion and economic issues.
New steak cuts. AURI, in conjunction with the Minnesota Beef Council and meat processors, is raising awareness of new, higher-value cuts of beef chuck, such as flat iron and ranch-cut steaks. Chuck is typically processed into roasts or ground beef and this effort offers higher-value opportunities for the beef industry.