Within the vast world of value-added agriculture, it is important for an organization like AURI to keep efforts focused and true-to-mission year-after-year. One of the central methods AURI uses to accomplish this is by identifying key research themes and priorities to guide its efforts.
These research themes represent the focus of the organization’s work and are based on emerging opportunities with the potential for impactful outcomes. Specifically, the research themes communicate research and activities to partners, supporters and other important stakeholder groups that will be useful as AURI assesses funding and collaboration opportunities.
To that end, AURI identified a number of broad-based themes based on industry trends, potential for commercial development, opportunities to fill gaps in knowledge, challenges faced by various industries and opportunities for synergy and collaborations. Above all, the purpose of AURI’s research themes is to explore value-added innovation areas with the most potential to positively impact the state of Minnesota and the greater agriculture industry.
For 2019 AURI categorized the research priorities into three broad, but distinct groups: Coproducts/Biobased/Renewables, Multi-Disciplinary and Food.
“By working within these areas, AURI staff can garner information and educate our clients and partners about viable opportunities to invest in ways to deliver mission relevant impacts,” said Jennifer Wagner-Lahr, senior director of innovation & commercialization. “This fosters collaborative efforts that benefit the agricultural industry in Minnesota and bring ideas to reality.”
Within the framework of this theme, AURI works to identify value-added applications for both primary agricultural commodities and coproducts. Opportunities like these arise through a formal examination process involving applied research, technical assessment and public outreach.
By working to develop these opportunities, AURI creates a multi-tiered positive impact. The successful pursuit of these themes often result in new innovations benefitting producers, processors and end users. The result can range from the creation of new business opportunities and jobs to capital investment in rural communities. Both of which benefit the local and state economy, and by extension can have a ripple effect into bordering states.
AURI will explore key research themes within the coproducts and biobased/ renewables domain, including: Industrial Applications of Biobased Products; Innovative Utilization of Minnesota Coproducts in Ag Production; and Monetizing and Mitigating Ag and Processing Waste Streams.
- Industrial Applications of Biobased Products
This theme focuses on the development of new, innovative biobased alternatives to traditional petroleum-based products. Through its work in this area AURI endeavors to help create new markets, domestically and internationally for Minnesota commodities, which means a higher potential for producer-profitability.
In the coming year, work conducted within this theme will focus on biobased road sealants, biodegradables, extractables, high value molecules and biocomposites. In addition to exploring the efficacy of these elements, this theme investigates the cost-benefit of using biobased solutions as an alternative to traditional materials. In the end, this combination of exploration and development of industrial applications increases the potential to yield new economic activity and utilization of Minnesota commodities.
- Innovative Utilization of Minnesota Coproducts
AURI’s Innovative Utilization of Minnesota Coproducts research theme works to characterize coproducts and identify innovative applications with higher value potential. This innovative utilization comes in many forms, ranging from the implementation of a new technology that makes a process more efficient to identifying new uses or applications for specific coproducts.
Throughout 2019, the AURI team assigned to this theme will look into potential coproduct use in feed and feed supplements, livestock bedding, organic fertilizers and various forms of soil amendments. The result of this work has the potential to benefit Minnesota’s agricultural processing industries and grower groups by developing new products, which translates into additional revenue streams.
It’s important to note this exploratory work is not singularly client-specific. Rather, it addresses both client needs as well as processing or value-added coproduct applications that potentially benefit the agricultural industry at large.
- Monetizing and Mitigating Ag and Processing
AURI’s research theme Monetizing and Mitigating Ag and Processing Waste Streams has significant impact potential, not only to Minnesota but to the greater agricultural industry, because processing waste at any level of the value chain can be a significant expense. To address this issue, the research theme focuses on conducting analyses and value identification of these streams. In doing so, AURI researchers explore creative solutions by investigating new methods of mitigating repurposing costs or adding value to these streams via new
AURI utilizes a formal process to achieve these goals. First, researchers identifying waste streams and their characteristics in order to conceive ideas for new products with a focus on hurdles that must be overcome. Next, they identify technologies or processes capable of overcoming those hurdles. Then researchers validate the technology or processing within AURI pilot lab facilities.
This theme will focus on two broad categories of analysis and value identification, coproducts and food waste mitigation.
“This theme represents three AURI focus areas and is a very broad category encompassing a wide range of analysis and work. Selecting research themes helps focus resources for outcomes where we feel opportunities best exist,” said Shannon Schlecht, AURI’s executive director. “These research themes provide an avenue to better tell the story of both what is happening in this space and what is underway to drive change in these areas as well as to illustrate potential areas of industry collaboration.”
Today’s consumer market is a major driving force for innovations in the food industry. With a constant wave of demand for new products, product differentiation and formulation changes staying on top of this continuously evolving landscape to meet consumers’ needs and realize commercialization success is difficult. That’s why AURI chose to focus its 2019 food research on themes that address these challenges and help advance solutions for food businesses to thrive.
The key food research themes AURI selected to explore include: The Nexus of Food, Health and Wellness; Exploring Traditional and Alternative Protein Sources; and, Creating an Environment For Scalable Food Businesses.
- The Nexus of Food, Health and Wellness
Increasingly, today’s consumers are taking charge of their personal wellbeing through their food choices. AURI’s research theme The Nexus of Food, Health and Wellness explores this movement, as well as opportunity areas for businesses and industry to pursue. To move this theme forward, researchers will explore elements that play a role in the ongoing market shift. This includes the ubiquity of data, the evolution in personalized medicine and insights from research into foods’ interactions with our overall health and well-being.
In exploring the various aspects of this theme, AURI staff can assist food businesses and entrepreneurs in developing a new product that meets consumer demand or reformulating a product to better position it in this nexus space of food, health and wellness. This theme has great potential for positively impacting Minnesota because the state has established itself as a center of food and medical innovation.
Throughout the year, AURI will focus its efforts for this theme on topics related to high oleic oils, functional foods and clean labels.
- Exploring Traditional and Alternative Protein Sources
Because protein ingredients continue to gain prominence due to escalating consumer awareness and demand, AURI determined one of its themes should focus on exploring the topic. Within this framework, AURI will explore new opportunities for traditional sources of protein, like meat, dairy, and nuts, as well as the development of new sources and products from novel plant proteins and cellular agriculture. The ultimate goal of this theme is to identify opportunities for clients and the industry at large to meet consumer demand and develop
Work within this theme provides direct support to small- and medium-sized Minnesota meat-based businesses (both traditional and boutique), as well as alternative protein-based businesses that make products like snacks, spreads and beverages from non-traditional protein sources. In some cases, there are also opportunities for the two groups to work together on products that contain both traditional and non-traditional protein sources.
During the lifespan of this research theme, AURI staff will focus their efforts on convening events that further protein innovation in all arenas, the Protein Highway program, and studies in plant protein sources for new uses in food products.
- An Environment For Scalable Food Businesses
AURI is committed to helping build a Minnesota-wide food innovation ecosystem. Its Creating An Environment For Scalable Food Business research theme advances this commitment by providing affordable and accessible food safety, regulatory compliance, and product development services. These efforts deconstruct barriers and create building blocks for food companies through sound science and an expanding list of capabilities.
Up to this point, numerous AURI initiatives exemplified this commitment. For example, AURI is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to undertake a multi-phase public initiative exploring the lack of capacity and access to affordable manufacturing options in Minnesota for ready-to-scale food and beverage businesses.The initiative identifies strategies to encourage development of a more robust manufacturing infrastructure.
Moving forward, AURI will focus its efforts within this theme on empowering small-scale entrepreneurs, furthering its pricing guide offering, implementing a sensory lab and exploring co-manufacturing feasibility.
“The food industry is very dynamic and competitive. AURI’s research themes equip food entrepreneurs with knowledge to make sound business decisions and strategies for the future,” said Schlecht. “Exploratory work produces information that helps entrepreneurs and producers overcome early challenges to successfully bring their products to market as well as outline the resources available to develop a longer-term strategy.”
Research and pilot programs are underway across the state to develop new crops and cropping systems for Minnesota producers. Developing the value-add opportunities in parallel with the agronomics research is a critical factor to the early success and adoption of new crops. The goal of AURI’s value-add efforts in this theme is to overcome potential constraints and help accelerate the economic pull of these crops into the market place to provide producers economically viable cropping choices for their operations.
- Developing Minnesota’s Industrial Hemp Production and Processing Industry
Minnesota currently operates a pilot program, which is part of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, allowing for the study of growth, cultivation, and marketing of industrial hemp. AURI’s research theme Developing Minnesota’s Industrial Hemp Production and Process Industry explores this opportunity with specific focus given to value chain opportunities. Analysis and study is paramount to position Minnesota for long-term economic success using industrial hemp.
For this theme, AURI researchers will investigate the use of hemp in biobased products, as well as the potential use of its meal, oil and fiber for both the livestock feed and food ingredients. To this end, AURI will release a public domain report in 2019 illustrating the value chain segments, developed with information obtained through several interviews with key leaders and stakeholders in the hemp industry.
- Preserving Soil Health With Cover Crops and Perennials
AURI’s research theme Preserving Soil Health Through Cover Crops and Perennials aims to identify value-added markets and products for new cover crops and perennials. Through a collaboration with the
U of M, AURI will focus on research and development of valued-added processing and product development of new or existing plants, such as: Kernza, pennycress, camelina, etc. The goal is to demonstrate potential profitability and market acceptance for producers adopting these new crops.
AURI will support this research theme in a variety of ways including: working to identify the value chain opportunities; assisting in the development of pilot labs focusing on drying and/or material cleaning and handling requirements; conducting research and development of new products that can be manufactured or produced from various cover crops or components of the materials that can be incorporated into current markets; and helping to move products into the marketplace as human food or livestock feed.
Achieving AURI’s mission to foster long-term economic benefit for Minnesota through value-added agricultural products requires constant analysis and innovation. Ongoing work of the outlined research themes accomplishes this and ensures AURI progresses and continues to fulfill its mission of fostering long-term economic benefit for Minnesota through value-added agricultural products. Future efforts rely on critical insights and a deepened base of knowledge obtained through this critical applied research.
“AURI generates positive effects for the agricultural community through its experience and first-hand knowledge of what drives change in the industry. The teams at AURI are passionate in their efforts to explore these research themes to further opportunities for the agricultural industry that match our organization’s mission,” said Schlecht. “The AURI community and stakeholders have plenty to look forward to in the coming year!