Earlier this year AURI released its latest annual report, which provides information about the organization’s operational and fiscal results for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19).
Overall, FY19 was a successful period for the organization, thanks to the dedication of the staff and board of directors, as well as the support of AURI’s many partners. What follows is a recap of the report for a high-level understanding of the organization’s achievements.
With regard to project activity, AURI’s dedicated staff worked on 183 different projects across the organization’s four focus areas (food, coproducts, biobased products and renewable energy), with 84 new projects opened during the year. AURI staff also provided many additional hours of non-project consultation and support to Minnesota businesses.
Food projects continue to comprise the largest segment of our overall services, with this area representing 61 percent of new projects and 58 percent of total projects serviced.
As in the past, AURI’s project work made a significant impact on clients and Minnesota’s overall economic health. During a five-year period ending with the close of FY19 (June 30, 2019), AURI’s work contributed to the creation and retention of more than 700 jobs across the state and nearly $133 million in new capital investments. In addition, the work during the past five years resulted in $261 million in new gross annual sales by clients and the use of an additional 323,000 tons of Minnesota grown commodities per year. Not only are these great numbers to report regarding AURI’s contribution to the industry and economy, but also because they are proof of the entire organization’s dedication to its mission and creating tangible business outcomes to benefit the food and ag industry.
That said, it is important to note that client project work represents only one area of the many benefits AURI provides to the food and agriculture ecosystem. In addition to the FY19 project work, AURI took specific and deliberate steps to achieve its organizational vision. For example, staff and leadership, engaged together in ecosystem growth throughout the state, by playing an active role in a variety of high-profile events. Most notable among them were Food | Ag | Ideas Week, FEAST, and MN Cup.
Throughout the year, AURI’s team contributed to these events by providing competition judges, recommending speakers and thought leader topics, as well as being guest speakers and panelists. In fact, AURI was asked to collaborate over 40 times during FY19 by ecosystem organizations to further opportunities for the agricultural industry and Minnesota’s economy.
At the same time, AURI stepped up its efforts to host exciting new events that brought together some of the region’s top innovative minds and most active contributors across the agriculture sector. One great example would be the first-ever Open Innovation Reverse Pitch event, which turned the traditional entrepreneurial innovation pitch model on its head by inviting leading food and ag companies to share challenges in need of solutions from producers, entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators. Another example is the Nexus of Food & Health event, which drew attention to the important role food plays in health and how food’s functional properties can have a restorative effect.
AURI worked extensively in the food industry with clients in greater Minnesota that were ready to expand and take the next step in their businesses.
One example is the Food Team’s work with Two Harbors, Minn. based Ruth’s Vegetarian Gourmet. The company turned to AURI for assistance to meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) accreditation requirements for inclusion in public school meal plans. Earning USDA accreditation for school meal plans is technical and expensive. In recent years, AURI has specifically added capabilities and expertise in this area to help guide clients through the process.
The AURI Coproducts Team was proud to partner with the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative to support the development of new cash cover crops. As part of the collaboration, AURI investigated new methods for seed cleaning of cash cover crops like pennycress, camelina, as well as perennial crops like Kernza™. AURI did significant pilot lab research to press and filter oilseed cover crops. Scientists on the Coproducts Team also conducted research and analysis on the protein and nutritional content of Kernza™ to determine its potential uses as a food ingredient in baking.
In FY19, AURI partnered on a project with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Minnesota rye grass producers through Northern Excellence Seed LLC. The goal of the project was to determine if rye grass can be used as poultry bedding. As part of the research, AURI monitored ammonia levels and overall bird health in a trial using rye grass screenings and straw as a bedding at the Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls. Minnesota is one of the largest producers of both turkeys and rye grass seed in the country and identifying new uses for rye grass coproducts throughout the agricultural economy is an exciting and important venture.
Biobased Products Highlights:
New Starch Solutions partnered with AURI’s Biobased Team on the development of a new packaging material made from corn starch. The Plymouth, Minn. based company is a manufacturer and distributor of sustainable packaging products made from starch that are used in a variety of different markets and applications. Their products cushion shipments and often replace expanded polystyrene. Starch-based packing peanuts are an environmentally friendly, reusable and cost-effective alternative to traditional packing foam.
AURI worked with New Starch Solutions across multiple areas, including business development, sourcing and pelleting various materials. AURI also helped the company with grant applications to obtain additional funding.
Renewable Energy Highlights:
Throughout FY19, AURI’s Biobased and Renewable Energy Team supported and assisted the relaunch of the Midwest Biomass Exchange website. This free, online resource is a marketplace designed to connect buyers and sellers of woody and agricultural biomass for heating fuel and power generation.
The website helps buyers and sellers connect, while increasing the visibility of biomass fuel suppliers and enhancing the availability of information about potential sources of biomass. In doing so, this project helps those considering biomass-fired heat or energy systems to better understand the network of fuel providers across Minnesota and the region.
In FY19, AURI generated $4,445,934 in revenue and expended $4,675,841, showing a deficit of ($229,907) at year-end.
AURI ended the fiscal year within five percent of breaking-even on its statement of activities (income statement) and utilized a portion of its reserve account to off-set the deficit spend for FY19. This was needed to maintain critical programs and secure longer term asset needs.
Overall, AURI’s short-term financial outlook is positive. The organization is steadily increasing revenue levels in fee-for-service, project fees, grants, sponsorships and federal funds to leverage state dollars and maximize their impact. Long-term, increasing revenue from additional funding streams and maintaining positive stakeholder and client relationships is key to AURI’s financial health and success.