The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) strives to be a leader in value-added agricultural product innovation to help foster long-term economic benefit for the state of Minnesota. One of the key components of being a leader is remaining at the forefront of agricultural trends. Three of the trends agriculture experts believe will help shape the industry in 2022 include: Regenerative Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Sustainable Proteins. AURI is supporting several collaborative partnerships that highlight these trends.
Today, major food and beverage companies are counting on regenerative agriculture to help meet sustainability goals, and many farmers continue to adopt conservation efforts to do their part.
AURI is working closely with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management’s Forever Green Initiative. Forever Green is working to develop and identify the next generation of crops, specifically winter annuals and perennials, that can fill the so-called “brown period.” Cover crops such as pennycress, winter camelina and Kernza® perennial grain are gaining attention in the Midwest to reduce erosion and promote soil health.
One of the innovators AURI is partnering with on Kernza is Gwen Williams, owner of Artisan Naan Bakery in St. Cloud. Together, a pilot project was launched to produce naan made from Kernza flour to sell in store. The project was a success, and the bakery produces wholesale Kernza naan and bread products for retail markets across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region.
Innovations in the field have produced more cost-efficient ways to capture and retain clean energy, leading to a boom in the industry. This expansion is occurring on both large and small scales, from biomass processing to rooftop solar to wind farms. AURI is working on a variety of initiatives and projects within the renewable energy sector.
Green Ammonia & Green Hydrogen
Green Ammonia and Green Hydrogen refer to the production of ammonia and hydrogen that is 100 percent renewable and AURI is working with the University of Minnesota on green ammonia as an energy source for agricultural uses. Green ammonia has many uses as an energy source – it can run grain dryers and illuminate and heat homes and commercial buildings. It can also be used as a fertilizer, and can become fuel to power a tractor or vehicle.
Biofuel is produced through contemporary processes from biomass rather than fossil fuels. The two most common types of biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is derived from various plant materials and used as a blending agent with gasoline to increase octane and reduce emissions. Most ethanol is derived from plant starches and sugars but developing technologies will allow for use of plant fibers. Renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel are two emerging biofuel areas.
Biogas (Anaerobic Digestion)
Biogas is a type of biofuel produced from the decomposition of organic waste. Food scraps and animal waste are broken down in an anaerobic (non-oxygenated) environment and a blend of gases is released. In 2020, CenterPoint Energy, Minnesota’s largest natural gas utility proposed state legislation promoting innovative clean energy resources and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance Minnesota’s clean energy future. The Natural Gas Innovation Act would establish a state regulatory policy allowing a natural gas utility to add alternative fuels, such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen gas, to its distribution system. A utility could also deploy new energy-efficiency and carbon-capture technologies to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use.
Protein is an essential macronutrient needed by the body to fuel growth and maintain optimal health. It helps build muscle, repair tissues and provide energy to sustain life. Unlike other macronutrients in the body, protein reserves are not stored and must be consumed regularly to maintain good health.
With the world’s population approaching 8 billion, a major shift in food consumption behavior and the scarcity of natural resources, the question of how to feed more people while also protecting the environment is being addressed at both global and local levels. An emerging solution to these challenges is the cultivation of more sustainable sources of protein.
Producing proteins in a way that is affordable, healthy and beneficial for the environment is an important need, and includes both sustainable animal-based products and plant-based products.