A nonprofit corporation, AURI is overseen by representatives of Minnesota’s diverse agricultural industry. These board members, with their collective experience and knowledge, provide AURI direction. This is Ag Innovation News’ second installment featuring those leaders.
When the USDA-supported Center for Producer-Owned Energy was established in 2004, a second board was established to provide guidance and approve projects for the new center. The Energy Center’s board includes AURI board members and two other directors who are included in the following profiles.
Julie Bleyhl has served on AURI’s board since 1989, when it became an independent nonprofit, and prior to that served on AURI’s steering committee. She was AURI board chair for six years.
Raised on a farm near Madison, Minn., Bleyhl now works for AFSCME Council 6 in St. Paul and represents the Minnesota Farmers Union on the AURI board.
“AURI bridges a gap not filled by any other organization,” Bleyhl says, with its “technical services, feasibility studies and laboratory services. AURI is positioned throughout Minnesota, which provides access for clients.”
Bleyhl says serving family farmers and rural communities is central to AURI’s mission. One of the most important emerging opportunities to boost the rural economy, she says, is renewable energy.
Richard Schieck is a full-time teacher at KMS High School in Kerkhoven, Minn., but also works on his daughter’s hog farm. Schieck has represented the Minnesota Pork Producers on AURI’s board for eight years.
“AURI is a group of people focused on a common goal — what opportunities can we economically aid rural Minnesota with?” Schieck says. “AURI has a unique ability to search out, locate and research new ideas.”
Schieck says “out of the box” thinking exemplifies AURI uniqueness, as does the hands-on expertise offered by AURI labs and staff. Besides developing more value-added pork products, Schieck says AURI is researching ways to use manure — generated by 14 million hogs raised here annually — for energy. “The buzz today is energy needs,” he says.
Richard Peterson raises corn, soybeans and sheep on his Mountain Lake, Minn. farm and represents the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council and the Minnesota Corn Growers on the AURI board. He also chairs AURI’s Center for Producer-Owned Energy board.
Peterson says it’s important that AURI not only provide assistance to producers in an effort to find new uses for ag products, but to “keep the state involved in the number one industries in Minnesota agriculture.”
Partnerships and collaboration enhance AURI’s efforts to make sure Minnesota producers are profitable and remain here, he says. “AURI provides a resource to bring state and other partners together.” He points to AURI’s Center for Producer-Owned Energy as an example of bringing “federal, state and other partners together.”
Peterson says renewable fuels, new uses and value-added opportunities are important to the thousands of Minnesota corn farmers.
Dairy farmer Pat Lunemann and his family operate Twin Eagle Dairy, a 500-head dairy near Clarissa, Minn. He also represents the Minnesota Milk Producers Association on AURI’s Center for Producer-Owned Energy board.
Lunemann says the federally-supported center offers funding, support and partnership opportunities for next-generation, ag-based energy projects and “allows for independent partnering with a wide number of agricultural and commodity groups.” The greatest value, he says, is “being there to
support and enhance some of the great ideas that ag people are bringing forward.”
“The whole field of alternative energy is wide open. We need to continue research and seek those opportunities.” One area Lunemann would particularly like to see developed is capturing more energy from livestock manure.
Jim Boerboom, Minnesota Department of Agriculture assistant commissioner, represents MDA on AURI’s Center for Producer-Owned Energy board. He says AURI and the Energy Center have “the capacity to leverage state, private and federal funds to enhance Minnesota’s economy. It offers
an opportunity for businesses and individuals to test the technical and financial feasibility of new agricultural products.”
MDA, one of AURI’s collaborating partners, oversees public health, food safety and commerce issues related to agricultural products.
Boerboom says projects that have the most potential include gasifying agricultural residues, developing coproducts, using biomass feedstocks for ethanol and promoting the biodiesel market.
Sen. Dallas Sams
Senator Dallas Sams has served on the AURI board since January of 1993 and represents the Minnesota Senate. Sams is a legislator and farmer from Staples, Minn.
Now in his 5th term, Sams lists agriculture among his top legislative concerns along with health care, education and transportation. Sams also chairs the Environment, Agriculture and Economic Development Budget division.