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Technology and Innovation in Minnesota’s Poultry Industry

April 30, 2012

Poultry is a significant part of Minnesota’s agricultural economy. In fact, Minnesota is the number one turkey production state in the United States. In 2008, the state raised approximately 48 million turkeys. Minnesota is ranked eighteenth in the nation for broiler chicken production (raising 44.9 million broiler in 2008) and seventh for egg production.

As lighting is a major energy use of the poultry industry and opportunities for energy efficiency in poultry barns are few, we’re hopeful that poultry-specific LED lights may be one innovative technological solution to helping poultry farmers conserve energy. Our LED Pilot Project aims to determine the energy savings potential of these lights and to evaluate the dependability of LED technology for both producers and electric utilities.

Building on the MinnWest Technology Campus near Willmar, MN.Of course, lighting is just one area of opportunity and research. Another area where the poultry industry and technological innovation are coming together is the MinnWest Technology Campus in the Willmar Lakes area in central Minnesota. The campus is located on about 100 acres that up until 2006 were a state psychiatric hospital. The campus’s 30-plus buildings are on the historic register. The Minnesota Project recently had a chance to tour the campus and came away quite impressed.

The goal of the campus is to serve as a business community for innovators in bioscience, agribusiness, technology and bioenergy. The MinnWest website states, “Our purpose is to create a place where innovation and collaboration meet to help businesses break new ground, set new standards and reach new heights of personal and professional success.” The campus aims to attract other companies that will bring new jobs and investment to the region.

MinnWest is currently home to 27 business tenants. And while there are a number of businesses there that are not directly linked to agriculture or the sciences, the core of the companies present do, which the campus’s managers hope will lead to greater collaboration and innovation.

Life-Science Innovations (LSI) and Nova-Tech are the cornerstone tenants, having purchased the land in 2006 from the state. Willmar Poultry Company is LSI’s flagship business and one of the largest producers of turkey poults in the country. The company raises about 30 million day-old poults (chicks) a year, selling them to customers like Sara Lee and Cargill. Nova-Tech manufacturers equipment that uses lasers and microwaves to treat commercial turkeys’ feet and beaks. Besides these, the MinnWest campus includes spin-offs from Willmar Poultry, such as Epitopix, an animal vaccine developer and manufacturer. Other companies are a farmer’s investment group called Farmers Agriculture and Renewable Resource Members (FARM); Whole Feeds, a livestock production management and feed manufacturer; Feedlogic Corporation, an on-farm feed system technology business; and the General Management and Accounting Service Center for Cargill, Inc.

MinnWest Technology Campus near Willmar, MN.MinnWest has worked with the University of Minnesota to create the new Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center (MCROC), where students can assist companies with research and engineering. That includes an Avian Research Center to focus on poultry disease prevention. In that spirit, the campus recently played host to the i3@mtc Youth Science Retreat, which attracted 500 people for hands-on science projects and live demonstrations from organizations like the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State University alongside local engineering and biology companies.

Ultimately MinnWest’s vision “is to be a world-class location for companies to grow and collaborate for the advancement of science and technology.” It will be interesting to see what comes out of the partnerships at work there.

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