Since 1989, when it became a nonprofit corporation, AURI has been governed by a board of directors representing commodity groups, farm organizations, the state legislature and agribusiness. These stakeholders — all leaders in their organizations, guide AURI’s success.
While much of the board’s work is out of the spotlight, the members’ combined experience and expertise helps chart AURI’s course, providing Minnesota producers with value-added opportunities for commodities.
Each member has his or her own reasons for serving on the Board. In the next few issues we will profile these leaders to acquaint readers with those who help guide AURI.
Although Al Christopherson recently retired as Minnesota Farm Bureau president, a position he has held since 1988, he is tirelessly continuing his work in value-added agriculture. Christopherson has served on the AURI board since 1989 and has been board chair since 2001. He also raises corn, soybeans and hogs on his farm near Pennock, Minn. Christopherson says value-added development is essential to a healthy agricultural industry: “We can and must seek out new markets and uses for agricultural products … AURI is the vehicle to accomplish that mission,” he says In the future, “I see AURI continuing much of what we’ve been doing, but a number of the efforts will center around alternative sources of energy,” Christopherson says. Animal-waste uses and health products made from farm crops are other emerging areas of opportunity, he notes. Developing new products is a valuable service, Christopherson says, but perhaps more important is the expert analysis and opinions on a project’s feasibility that AURI staff provide to businesses and individuals.
Jerry Kruger of Warren, Minn. has represented the Minnesota Wheat Council on AURI’s Board for more than 11 years. He owns and operates a diversified farm in northwestern Minnesota, raising wheat, soybeans, canola and sunflowers. Kruger says AURI’s flexibility in responding to changing and emerging opportunities is key to the organization’s success, as is promoting Minnesota’s economy. “AURI’s greatest value is in keeping value-added dollars in Minnesota that would otherwise go somewhere else,” Kruger says. “AURI is the place to go for answers to technical, applied research or business questions for those who are trying to add value to Minnesota-grown products.” AURI’s focus on renewable energy has significant development potential, Kruger says. He also points to projects like Swheat Scoop cat litter, produced by Pet Care Systems of Detroit Lakes, as examples of AURI’s best work. Pet Care Systems converts poor-quality wheat into an environmentally-friendly product superior to others on the market. AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca helped formulate and test the litter. Whatever the opportunity, Kruger says AURI will play a valuable role “assisting stakeholders in exploring and pursuing new value-added opportunities as they emerge.”
Jim Willers is among the newest voices on the AURI board of directors. Willers, who grows corn, soybeans and hay with his brother near Beaver Creek, also serves as secretary of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. He has represented the MSRPC and Minnesota Soybean Processors on AURI’s board for nearly two years. Willers says AURI’s unique services offer a distinct advantage for the state. “AURI can do a hands-on assessment to determine if a market for a product exists or not.” Like all of the Board’s nine members, Willers says there is merit in providing assistance to value-added ventures because those opportunities help create jobs and keep people living in rural Minnesota. Willers says renewable energy from ag products will continue to be important, as will new uses for coproducts. As a representative of the soybean industry, Willers is particularly interested in biodiesel and new uses for glycerin, which is a coproduct of biodiesel refining.
Edward Ellison Ed Ellison, a retired farmer from Herman, has been on the AURI Board for 12 years. Ellison served on the Cenex Harvest States board for 21 years and now represents CHS as an agribusiness representative on the AURI Board. He also continues to help his two sons farm. Ellison broadly views all Minnesotans as stakeholders, but particularly agribusinesses, commodity groups and producers. He says AURI’s three offices in rural Minnesota and its concentrated efforts in renewable energy and value-added opportunities are making a difference. “I believe that AURI has done a good job of providing a ‘one-stop shop’ for analysis of technical and market feasibility, product development, applied research and access to laboratory facilities,” Ellison says. “AURI has done all this on a very small budget, so the return on investment to the Minnesota economy is fantastic.” Ellison points to projects like Swheat Scoop, Mississippi Topsoils, Minnesota Soybean Processors and SoyMor as examples of innovation that AURI has assisted. But he adds it may be just as valuable when start-up or emerging businesses stop or change plans after AURI staff analyze the project, saving the business time and money.
Rep. Greg Davids Rep. Greg Davids is new to the AURI board, but not to Minnesota agriculture. An eight-term state representative, Davids is a farm owner and financial services provider from Preston, Minn. Among his legislative responsibilities, Davids chairs the House Agriculture and Rural Development committee. He has authored several bills involving value-added agriculture, including legislation requiring that ethanol make up 20 percent of the gasoline sold in Minnesota by 2013. Like others on the AURI board, Davids sees renewable energy as a huge opportunity for Minnesota agriculture. “I believe this is really an area where AURI can add value,” Davids says. “We need to become less dependent on oil and more independent using our own resources. AURI can lead that research.” Davids is particularly interested in new uses for biomass, which he says is underutilized. “This is an area where everyone can win,” Davids says. “We’ve really just touched the tip of the iceberg … we can grow the corn for ethanol, soybeans for biodiesel and utilize stover as well. “Minnesota is already a leader (in renewable energy development), but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. We have to work even harder.”