–by Teresa Spaeth, Executive Director | Jen Wagner-Lahr, Senior Director for Commercialization and Innovation

In most issues of Ag Innovation News, we share with you the latest happenings at AURI and perspectives on innovation in the Executive Director’s column. In addition, one of our staff members also writes about the latest developments in agricultural innovation in the Seeing Around Corners column. In this issue, we are bringing those two columns together as we aim to share with you one of AURI’s key strategic initiatives: identifying the highest-impact opportunities for agriculture in Minnesota.

Why is this a strategic initiative for AURI? One of AURI’s key duties as directed by the state legislature is to “identify development opportunities for agricultural products.” The development of these new products, as well as new processes using agricultural products, creates further economic development and jobs for the state of Minnesota. As part of that effort, AURI began convening Minnesota’s Research and Promotion Council research and/or executive directors in order to work together to identify those highest-potential opportunities and then work together to realize them.

In order to identify these opportunities, also known as aspirations, we went through a formal, research-based process called a Needs Assessment. This process looks at what we need to do to make Minnesota the best state in the world of agriculture in order to create more jobs, grow wealth and strengthen our economy. We start from a position of strength, examining what we’re the best at, and what is needed to take advantage of those strengths in order to make us the best state in agriculture.

This needs assessment process began with face-to-face meetings of Research and Promotion Council (RPC) Forum participants and several one-on-one meetings with RPC staff. Based on those meetings and conversations, we identified 34 aspirational statements—or needs—that if met would position Minnesota agriculture for a strong future.

Then, we took those 34 statements and conducted a survey of 45 people: three individuals from each of the participating 14 Research and Promotion Councils and three individuals from AURI’s Board of Directors. Twenty seven people responded to the survey. Read about the results below.

Based on the survey respondents’ input as to the importance and feasibility of the 34 aspirational statements, we were able to narrow the list to 12 top opportunities (or aspirations) for the state of Minnesota. They are as follows:

1 There is a need to ensure that Minnesota policy/regulations are science-based and developed with agricultural industry leadership.

2  In the future, the public accepts that foods produced using genetic modifications and/or other types of biotech advancements have been developed in a responsible manner and provide a means to feed a growing world population.

3  Farmers in Minnesota should be able to access improved seed genetics that provide desirable traits (e.g., drought tolerance, weed and insect resistance, increased yield and quality attributes).

4  Agricultural research in Minnesota should be collaborative and impactful.

5  Collaboration between research institutions and the Research and Promotion Councils in Minnesota should be equitable, timely and rewarding.

6  Minnesota’s higher education institutions need to retain appropriate teaching, research and outreach positions in order to serve the agricultural industry.

7  There needs to be greater consumer awareness and understanding of the ag industry’s production practices and regulatory/inspection processes in Minnesota (e.g., BQA, pork quality assurance).

8  There needs to be adequate resources dedicated to infrastructure improvements in Minnesota (e.g., transportation, communications, energy, water and waste).

9  There is a need to ensure the public understands measures taken to control foodborne illnesses and is confident that food produced in the U.S. is safe.

10 Minnesota producers and processors need to be able to capture increasing worldwide markets for protein.

11  The nutritional value of food needs to be more apparent to consumers.

12  In the future, there should be an independent and unbiased mechanism for examining and/or interpreting policies and regulations in Minnesota.

So, now that we know these top 12 aspirations for the state, what’s next? In addition to this strategic initiative, AURI is also working with the renowned Battelle Memorial Institute and a steering team of agricultural leaders from across the state to do an analysis of our state’s capacities in agbioscience research and development. Agbioscience is the term used to refer to agriculture and associated biosciences. We will begin looking, with the RPC Forum and the Battelle steering team, for areas of alignment between the needs identified and the capacities we have as a state in order to form a strategy for the future.

Stay tuned to future issues of Ag Innovation News and Ag Innovation Update, our enewsletter, for further developments in these areas as we look to provide a strategy for the state’s agbioscience research and development that will set Minnesota up for further economic development and the creation of new jobs. If you don’t receive either of these publications, contact news@auri.org, and we will subscribe you.