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Published July 12, 2009, 11:15 PM

Agricultural Utilization Research Institute celebrates 20th birthday

After 20 years of providing scientific support to budding agricultural industries in Minnesota, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute has gained a broad range of expertise.

By: Matt Bewley, Grand Forks Herald

After 20 years of providing scientific support to budding agricultural industries in Minnesota, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute has gained a broad range of expertise.

“We have worked with, in some way, every agricultural commodity that is grown in Minnesota,” said Dan Lemke, AURI’s communications director.

He considers himself one of the “old-timers” at AURI, having witnessed much of its progress.

“We have grown and evolved and really, I think, found our niche as to what it is we can best do to help develop value-added projects here in Minnesota,” he says.

“The scientific technical assistance, something that not a lot of other places provide, is a valuable service that we can offer to folks here in Minnesota.”

AURI will be celebrating its first two decades of service by sponsoring a food drive for Minnesota food shelves in August and September at the annual Farmfest celebration in Redwood County, Minn. AURI is a state-funded nonprofit organization that operates in part through federal grants and partnership agreements with commodity groups. It was born out of the lean years in the 1980s, a time when finding new markets for ag products could be particularly helpful in offsetting farm losses.

“We had come out of a real nasty ag crisis and the rural economy was not good and so the creation of AURI was designed to help add value to the commodities that were out there, trying to find new ways to get them into new markets,” he said.

Advice, consent

This has led to longstanding partnerships throughout the agricultural industry. AURI works closely with Minnesota’s commodities groups and farm organizations, as well as with individual producers.

Though its mission is as much about advising against ventures they deem unlikely to succeed, the success of various other enterprises bears out its ability to help pave the way for ag innovation.

Among them is a 100-kilowatt gasifier being installed for Northern Excellence Growers, a grass seed growers group in Roseau County, which will burn about 2 million pounds of grass seed screenings each year, saving $60,000 in both energy and disposal costs. The institute also has been involved in biodiesel research since the late 1980s, helping to troubleshoot technical issues and get the industry firmly established in Minnesota.

“There we have very strong co-product utilization, which is looking at agri-processing leftovers, as from an ethanol plant,” Lemke said. “People are recognizing that those other products are potential revenue streams.”

He cites dried distiller’s grains, the coproduct derived from corn ethanol production, which became a successful, low-cost cattle feed product AURI helped make available to livestock producers.

To Lemke, change is the provider of new ideas and new markets. Gasoline’s sudden climb a few years ago toward $4 a gallon was one such instance.

“All of a sudden, the whole renewable energy from ag products suddenly became a lot hotter topic than it was when we were paying $1.20 for gas,” he says. “Things changing really dictates some of the directions that we’re able to take.”

Lemke said AURI’s ability to nurture new ideas in Minnesota’s agricultural industry, through research and information, will remain the key support function it provides.

“I don’t see us changing that because it’s something that we feel is needed and we do it well,” he said.

AURI’s mission statement

AURI was created and funded by the Minnesota Legislature to foster long-term economic benefit through increased business and employment opportunities to rural Minnesota through:

- The identification and expansion of existing markets for new or existing commodities, ingredients and products.

- The development of new uses or value improvements for Minnesota agricultural commodities.

- The development of renewable energy opportunities from Minnesota agricultural commodities and coproducts.

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