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a checkmark on top of a pile of dried corn

AURI and Checkoff dollars at work

Starch turned to plastic? Check.

Trucks run on soy? Check.

Got milk? Check.

For decades, checkoff dollars raised through the sale of commodities have funded projects that have escalated new uses and markets for ag products.

Farmers contribute the dollars when they are paid for commodities, and a small fraction is “checked off” for research and promotion. For example, corn growers pay a penny per bushel. Soybean growers contribute one-half of one percent of sales, and milk producers pay 15 cents per hundredweight (100 pounds) of milk. Almost all major commodities have checkoff programs.

The dollars fund research grants that churn out major new uses for commodities — like soy-based biodiesel and corn-based food containers. Or they pay for promotions like dairy’s “3-Every-Day” wellness program.

Farmer-controlled organizations, such as Research & Promotion Councils, manage the funds. A major portion is dedicated to research grants to develop new uses for commodities.

Several commodity groups have turned to AURI for help with identifying new use opportunities, defining research needs, managing projects and conducting tests and analysis at AURI laboratories.

Jim Willers, who farms near Beaver Creek and is past chairman of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, credits AURI with being at the forefront of biodiesel development — perhaps soybean’s biggest success story. “AURI did a lot of testing in the early stages of biodiesel,” Willers says. The renewable fuel “created a major use for a large amount of soybean oil … and has raised the price of soybeans.”

“Soybean oil use to be a drag on the market because there was a demand for soy meal and not for the oil. … Now it tends to follow the price of petroleum oil 94 percent of the time.”

Corn and dairy at the table

Rich Trebesch, who farms near Sleepy Eye, Minn. and chairs the Minnesota Corn Growers expanded uses team, says AURI is often at the table when they make research decisions. “When we have people come in with proposals, people from AURI sit in on the presentations, and we get feedback from them.”

AURI also develops project ideas. “AURI will come to us with some projects that they think we would be interested in funding,” such as testing feeds with distillers dried grains in cattle, swine and poultry diets. The corn growers’ research funds go farther, matched with AURI technical assistance and often state and federal funds.

“The reverse is also true. We’ll go to AURI with some proposals that we think they would fund … a lot are with the University of Minnesota,” Trebesch says.

This past year, AURI initiated a partnership with the Midwest Dairy Association. “We have been invited to take part in their research priority meetings,” says Jen Wagner-Lahr, AURI project director.

AURI helps the association establish “what kind of research they want in the RFP process.” At the association’s annual meeting, dairy producers and industry members hear proposals from various universities. “We then meet with members and faculty members to set priorities,” Wagner-Lahr says. Projects are conducted through the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center and some receive AURI funding.

Mary Higgins, Midwest Dairy Association vice president of ingredient marketing, says the goal is “to increase dairy consumption by giving consumers the products they want. … We work on joint initiatives that benefit consumers, the industry and, ultimately, the dairy producers.”

A history with soy

Dennis Timmerman, AURI project director, has met annually with soybean growers for the past several years.

“One-third of the soybeans grown in Minnesota are exported. Soybean growers would like to have more of those processed here, because it creates jobs and markets for soybean growers,” Timmerman says.

With opportunities in “green” markets, soybean growers recently funded an AURI market study and Minnesota manufacturers survey on using bioplastics. “We also looked at feed markets and identified potential for low-oligosaccharide soybean meal,” Timmerman says.

“Back before AURI, our farmers would look over some of these research proposals, and they did not have the expertise to determine if they were viable or not,” Willers says. “If we did fund the projects, we weren’t always able to see if they were being handled properly.”

“We may have ideas within the farm community, and we can give it to AURI and they can come back with a project,” Willers says. If a project involves a private company, “they’ll vet that company, manage the project and see it through to the end.

“Our percentage of successful projects is much higher now with AURI. They have the expertise.”

AURI has managed dozens of projects funded fully or in part by commodity checkoff dollars. Some of the projects recently initiated include:

Tapping central Minnesota markets

AURI is assisting the Ottertail County Soybean Processors Co-op with identifying niche markets in central Minnesota, such as livestock producers and pet food processors interested in purchasing soybean meal from the co-op.

Developing low-sodium cheeses

AURI assisted the Midwest Dairy Association and the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center with developing and improving low-sodium processed and natural cheeses.

Testing copper in milk

Some dairy co-ops are having problems with spontaneous milk oxidation before and after pasteurization, which may be related to high copper rates in dairy feed, common in the spring. AURI is helping to develop a quick test for copper levels in milk and a U of M flavor chemist is determining if a specific flavor compound could identify milk that is prone to oxidation. Project partners include the Midwest Dairy Association and Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center.

Building with bioplastics

Bio-Plastic Solutions, a plastic components manufacturer in Blooming Prairie, is developing moldings, trims, and cabinet accessories made with bio-based material. AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca has helped identify biomass that can be combined with PLA and other materials to make bioproducts with structural integrity. Minnesota Soybean and Minnesota Corn Growers are project partners.

New wheat and barley uses

AURI is expanding a 2002 report on value-added and alternative uses for wheat to include barley. The updated report will look at opportunities and barriers for potential new or improved wheat and barley uses. The second phase will disseminate information and explore viable options in northwest Minnesota. The Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council is a project partner.

The future of bioplastics

AURI led a two-year bioplastic market study and a survey of Minnesota manufacturers on using biomaterials. The project culminated with a bioplastics forum in August, which brought together more than 80 industry, economic development, academia and government representatives to discuss opportunities for building a bioplastics industry in Minnesota. Sponsors included Minnesota’s Soybean Research & Promotion Council, Corn Research & Promotion Council and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

Defatted soymeal

AURI assisted Midwest Ag Enterprises with developing a process to refine the protein in soybean meal to make a high-value feed ingredient for cattle, hogs and poultry — similar to soy protein concentrates used in the food industry. A process was developed to remove anti-nutritional oligosaccharides, which potentially could be used to make ethanol. (see story, page 2)

Whey clean

This project follows a successful 2010 AURI initiative that demonstrated bacterial biofilms forming on the filtration process in whey-processing facilities. The study will test a sanitation protocol and provide recommendations to the dairy industry. The Midwest Dairy Association is a project partner.

Cleaning drainage water with ag residue

Crop residues, such as straw and corn stover, are being tested in bioreactors that consume nitrates in water flowing from farm drainage tiles. (See story on page 3) The Minnesota Corn Growers Association is a project partner.

High-tech livestock

In August, AURI held livestock technology forums at Farmfest to share results of AURI initiatives on new processes and products that can improve performance and reduce production costs for Minnesota’s livestock industry. Forum sponsors included Minnesota’s Soybean Research & Promotion Council and Corn Research & Promotion Council.

Corner stover estimates

This study will analyze potential corn stover biomass availability at various distances from electrical or biofuels plants. Stover, the leaves, stalks and cobs left in a field after harvest, is a feedstock for fuel production. Researchers will also look at how producers decide whether or not to harvest stover. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association is a project partner.

Goat meat feasibility

This project updated a 2001 AURI feasibility study on initiating a goat meat industry in Minnesota. The study looked at goat breeds and production issues in Minnesota, ethnic markets, potential slaughtering and processing facilities, and consumer demand. Midwest Dairy Association is one of several project partners.


The following research projects focus on the use of distillers dried grains, a nutrient-dense byproduct of ethanol production. Because of the increasing supply of distillers grains or DDGS, it is cost competitive with other feed sources and its use is increasing.

Controlling contamination

This project is evaluating the potential for antibiotic residues in distillers grains. In ethanol plants, small amounts of antibiotics are used to control bacterial contamination during fermentation. Bacteria compete with yeast for sugars and micronutrients during fermentation, and can reduce ethanol yields by up to 5 percent. Controlling bacteria also improves distillers grain quality. The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council is a project partner.

Improving distillers grains in cattle feed

Despite the known advantages of distillers grains low starch and high energy and moisture content for feed rations, some producers are concerned about DDGS sulfur content. If too high, sulfur could cause hydrogen sulfide toxicity and reduce cattle’s performance. AURI is funding feed trials using distillers grains with low sulfur concentrations. The Minnesota Corn Growers and University of Minnesota are project partners.

Soluble-sensible cow diet

Corn solubles are a proven, effective dietary supplement for gestating cows. While their price is low, solubles in liquid form are costly to transport. Buying large quantities, such as a semi-load, could reduce costs. But corn solubles can only be stored for a week. This project looks at alternative methods of storing, handling and feeding corn solubles to reduce costs. The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council is a project partner.

Feeding distillers grains to poultry

Distillers dried grains are becoming more common in poultry diets. However, some producers are concerned that DDGS nutritional content isn’t consistent and energy derived from the feed can be influenced by the amount in feed and nutrient digestibility. This study will look at the relationship of various DDGS characteristics in poultry diets. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association is a project partner.

Lowering unsaturated fat in cattle diets

AURI is studying cattle feed made with 35 percent distillers dried grains that have reduced soluble content, which lowers the unsaturated fatty acid in the feed. Increasingly, ethanol plants are removing distillers grains’ solubles, which have other uses. Researchers expect feeding low-soluble grains will improve the nutritional benefits for cattle. The Minnesota Corn Growers and University of Minnesota are project partners.

Balancing electrolytes

This study is identifying the optimum dietary electrolyte balance (DEB) in turkey diets that contain distillers dried grains and canola meal. DEB reflects the balance of sodium, potassium and chloride and, when optimized, improves the health of turkeys. DEB can be affected by alternative feed ingredients that contribute sulfur to diets, such as distillers grains and canola meal, but other diet additives can improve the balance. Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council is a project partner.

Better with E

Mulberry Heart Disease in domestic swine is increasing. Distillers dried grains in swine diets have been blamed for increasing MHD, as DDGS contains high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids that impair Vitamin E. However, Vitamin E can be added to DDGS and this study will assess the effects of supplements in sow and nursery pig diets. Project partners include the Minnesota Corn Growers, Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council and University of Minnesota.