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A Vision for Minnesota Commodities

Minnesota leads nation in turkeys; 10th in broiler chickens


By Dan Lemke

Poultry producers have found Minnesota a fertile place to roost. As the nation’s number one turkey producer, Minnesota gets a big economic boost from millions of the feathered fowl, as well as chicken broilers and eggs.

But Minnesota poultry growers are facing increased competition from other protein sources, such as beef and pork. As a result, growers are looking at new ways to put poultry on consumers’ plates.


Blame it on Norman Rockwell.

Turkey dinner to most people means a golden-roasted whole bird, like Rockwell’s “Thanksgiving Dinner” image on a Saturday Evening Post cover.

While Minnesota turkey producers are happy to fill the holiday demand, they want consumers to know there are other culinary options.

“When people think of turkey, the image they have is that they have to cook this whole big bird,” says Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “The whole bird is great, but they don’t always think of the other ways they can use turkey in their meal rotation.”

While deli meat cuts have helped increase demand, Olson laments that few restaurants feature “center of the plate” turkey cuts on their menus, such as turkey tenderloin or roast turkey.

The turkey industry is seeking new markets to increase demand for birds in plentiful supply. Last year, Minnesota growers led the nation in turkey production with 46.5 million birds, up from 44 million the year before. Olson says a University of Minnesota study shows that each turkey adds $11.68 in value to Minnesota’s economy, with a total impact of more than $600 million annually.

“With turkey, it’s a challenge to make people aware of its versatility and nutritional attributes,” Olson says. “It’s very lean and, per portion, turkey is higher in protein than other meats — plus it’s affordable. Most consumers also don’t realize that turkey can be used in place of other proteins to lower fat content.”

Several large Minnesota turkey processors, including Jennie-O Turkey Store, Turkey Valley Farms and Northern Pride are tapping into the popularity of ready-to-eat foods and developing new products. Consumers can now find pan roasts, turkey sausage, burgers, seasoned ground turkey, turkey ham, kielbasa, even turkey bacon.

With domestic consumption holding steady the past few years at about 17 pounds per capita annually, growers are giving more attention to foreign markets. Olson says products are being developed that fit the cultural and market needs of China, Mexico and Russia. Halal processed products are also being developed for Muslim markets.

But new meat products aren’t turkey producer’s only opportunities. Coproducts such as feather meal and even turkey litter offer revenue potential. Feather meal can be used as a feed ingredient or made into biodegradable plastics. The litter is a valuable fertilizer, but also holds promise for energy generation.

Although it has been delayed, ground has been broken for a turkey-litter powered electrical plant. The Fibrominn plant near Benson, Minn. will produce 50 megawatts of renewable energy each year, beginning in mid 2007. Besides poultry litter, the plant will likely use other biomass sources as fuel.

Chicken broilers

Minnesota poultry producers raised more than 44 million broilers last year, ranking 10th in the nation. Like the turkey industry, Minnesota is home to some industry-leading companies, including St. Cloud-based Gold’n Plump. And just like their feathered relatives, broilers have a big economic impact. Economists value birds at $2.85 each, giving the Minnesota broiler industry an overall impact of $77.7 million annually.

In recent years, sales of ready-to-eat products and convenience foods that include chicken have increased. From rotisserie chickens at the supermarket to menu items at both fast-food and white-linen restaurants, chicken is widely available to consumers in many forms. However, Olson says broiler consumption has remained steady over the past several years.


Eggs have undergone an image makeover. Once vilified as a cause of high cholesterol, eggs are again being promoted as a valuable part of the human diet. In fact, the slogan “an egg a day is okay,” is being used by the egg industry to highlight recent studies that show consuming one egg per day does not significantly increase cholesterol levels.

Producers are hoping to crack other markets for their eggs and Olson, who represents the Broiler and Egg Association of Minnesota, says they are finding some success.

“It’s largely a nutrition message,” Olson says. “The cholesterol issue has been addressed, plus research has shown eggs contain nutrients that are important to the brain development in an unborn child. Eggs can also reverse some symptoms of age-related macular degeneration (an eye disease that causes gradual deterioration of sight). Plus, they’re an excellent source of protein.”

Designer and specialty eggs are also helping egg producers reach more consumers. For example, eggs high in Omega-3 fatty acids are being marketed to health-conscious consumers. Pasteurized eggs and ready-to-eat hard-boiled eggs are capturing niche markets.

Not all of the targeted consumers are human. Olson says the industry is actively pursuing ways to use egg ingredients in pet foods and treats. ¦

Wild rice special traits open up food and nonfood markets

By Cindy Green

Wild rice is not rice. It is a water grass — the only cereal grain native to North America. Called “manoomin” or “precious grain” by Native American tribes, it was named “wild rice” by early fur traders.

Though traditional wild rice is still hand-harvested by native tribes, cultivated wild rice has been grown as an agricultural crop since the 1950s. It is primarily grown on organic or mineral soils bordered by dikes to retain water, where it matures in about 120 days.

Minnesota produces 4.5 to 6 million finished pounds of wild rice annually on about 17,000 acres. Although Minnesota has twice the acreage, California produces more because yields are higher. Idaho, Wisconsin and Oregon grow small amounts of wild rice and Canada annually produces about 2.5 million finished pounds.

An acre of cultivated wild rice yields about about 720 pounds of unprocessed or 317 finished pounds, as more than half the weight is reduced during drying and processing. It sells for about 44 cents per unprocessed pound.

Wild rice was highly profitable when it was first cultivated in the 1950s; consumers were already accustomed to paying high prices for hand-harvested grain. But as yields improved and acreage climbed, prices leveled off.

However in the past several years, with wild rice’s unique traits and new cooking processes, market opportunities are expanding in a number of food and non-food areas including:

Quick-cooking wild rice.

AURI food scientist Charan Wadhawan developed a quick-cooking frozen wild rice product in 1995. Another dried quick-cooking product is currently available in supermarkets, sold by Riviana Foods under the Gourmet House label.

“Quick-cook is doing well,” Jon Dockter, associate director of the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council says. “Normally wild rice cooks in 30 to 40 minutes; quick cook takes 5 to 10 minutes.” Pre-cooking and drying “doesn’t compromise flavor or quality,” Dockter says.

Meat booster

In the mid-1990s, an AURI study confirmed that wild rice has anti-oxidant properties that can extend meat’s freezer life. It is being added to brats, burgers, sausages and other ground-meat products to not only keep them fresher, but add moisture and flavor.


Wild rice, a natural antioxidant and exfoliant, is showing up in Northwoods Blend® hand soaps, body washes, shampoos and lotions made by Botanicare. Inc. of Minneapolis. Sold through mail order and specialty stores such as Love From Minnesota, Botanicare products feature natural ingredients, no animal products and plant materials indigenous to Minnesota.

European export markets

In 2004, the United States exported 2,070 metric tons of wild rice — primarily to Germany, France, Switzerland and Great Britain. As Europe does not produce wild rice, the export market “is currently our largest growth segment.” The difficulty, Dockter says, is increasing production for markets would mean expanding or creating new paddies. “There are so many hoops to jump through,” with creating new paddies, “that it’s not very easy to expand acres.” ¦

Canola: the heart-friendly oil

By Cindy Green

Health-conscious consumers are increasing demand for canola oil — lower in saturated fat than any other vegetable oil. The heart-friendly oil is showing up in fast-food chains such as McDonalds, and even some movie theatres are swapping artery-clogging cottonseed for canola.

Canadian canola growers — with more than 12 million acres last year — have enjoyed most of the increased demand for the 41-percent-oil grain. However, U.S. production is nearly a million acres — most in North Dakota. Northern Minnesota counties have gained some ground — reaching a high point of 200,000 acres in 1998. But late springs and wet conditions prevented growers from getting their crops in the past couple years. Only 32,000 acres were harvested in 2004, down from 57,000 in 2003.

“Our biggest-producing counties — Roseau and Marshall — have had the biggest problems with wet or flooded conditions,” says Jon Dockter, associate director of the Minnesota Canola Council. Canola thrives best with cool nights and well-drained soils.

The council has been awarded an AURI grant to investigate how small grains rotated with canola affect subsequent canola yields.

Plentiful opportunity

There is plenty of opportunity for northern growers. The United States still imports much of its canola — estimates project imports will swell to 670,000 acres worth in 2005.

Canola is a relatively modern crop. It is derived from rapeseed, a centuries-old crop grown primarily in Europe for industrial lubricants. Rapeseed’s high erucic-acid content make it unfit for human consumption. However, breeders eliminated almost all the erucic acid to make “canola,” first registered in Canada in 1979. In 1985, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognized canola’s separate identity from rapeseed.

The Minnesota Canola Council was established in 1997, funded with producer check-off dollars, deducted when canola is sold. Since production has been low the past couple years, the council’s budget for developing new markets hasn’t been as high as it should be, Dockter says. But the council is still investigating markets that can expand opportunities for Minnesota producers. Some of those include:

Traditional food-oil markets

Canola oil is only 7-percent saturated fat. It is 61-percent monounsaturated fat – oleic acid, which has been shown to reduce serum and LDL cholesterol. Also, 11 percent of canola oil’s composition is heart-healthy alpha-linolenic acid.

Besides its nutritional benefits, canola is flavorless, so it lets other flavors come through in cooking. Are the benefits improving canola growers’ price? “Not as much as it should,” Dockter says. “Canola oil is line-priced in grocery stores, which means that it’s priced the same as other oils, which may not be as healthy. Since we’re not getting a premium for canola oil on the grocer’s shelves, it’s hard to realize any advantage.

Yet, the market price and the floor set by the federal government’s $9 per hundredweight loan rate make it profitable to grow.

Gourmet cooking oils

“There are some opportunities to work with other commodities, such as olive oil, to make a blend,” Dockter says. “You would get the lower-saturated fats of canola with the flavor of olive oil.” There is also a canola/soy blend hitting the grocer’s shelves which has great potential.” However, a squeezed budget “doesn’t allow the council to undertake any significant marketing efforts right now,” he says.

Mexican markets

Canola council efforts have been targeted at foreign markets. “We do work with the Mid America International Agri-Trade Council to promote canola in Mexico. We are trying to reach the Mexican consumer to let them know how well canola compares to corn oil in saturated fats,” Dockter says. “Hopefully that will spark some demand.”

Renewable fuels

Canola oil can be used for both biodiesel and motor oils. Tests have shown that “canola has some advantages over soy because it has higher lubricating and fuel-efficiency qualities; it also stood up to cold weather better.”

“This is an area of opportunity but, unfortunately for us, soybeans take such a large share of the biodiesel market,” Dockter says.

“Things are looking up, however,” Dockter says, with “the recent announcement of a $50 million biodiesel manufacturing plant being built this August in Minot, N.D., which will use 355,000 acres worth of canola.” The plant “hopefully will reinvigorate interest in canola production in our area.”

Sudsing, silken oil

Canola could be genetically engineered to be high in laurate, which is typically found in tropical oils such as coconut and palm kernel oil. Laurate’s sudsing quality is useful in shampoos, soaps and detergents. The silken texture is ideal for chocolate-flavored candy coatings, frostings and whipped toppings, and as a dairy substitute in coffee creamers.

The genetically-engineered oil must be labeled as either “high-laurate canola” or “laurate canola” because it is nutritionally different from conventional canola oil. A cocoa-butter-alternative from canola laurate was developed by Calgene for the confectionery markets but has not been marketed.