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Agriculture organization helps ideas become realities

If you have an idea for a new ag-related product or business you would like to bring to market, but don’t have the expertise to make it happen, Minnesota’s Agricultural Utilization Research Institute may be able to lend a hand.

James Curren found that out not long ago when he began trying to create value from the byproducts generated during the roasting process at Javacycle – the small fair trade organic coffee business he founded in Fairbault. Curren shared his story at a joint hearing the House Agriculture Finance and Policy committees Thursday, where the work of AURI was the first item on the agenda.

Joint meeting of the House Agriculture Finance and Agriculture Policy committees

Although he knew the chaff produced after the beans are roasted had potential as fertilizer, Curren did not have the technical expertise to turn what had been a waste product into a new opportunity for sales and growth. Then he heard about an organization that could help.

“AURI very quickly just connected those dots and within a fairly short period of time we were in the lab testing,” Curren said. “This was just way beyond anything that was in my scope or capacity, and as a small business owner, AURI was critical at getting me to the point where now I’ve got product on the shelf.”

AURI was created by the Legislature in the 1980s during troubled economic times for farmers who faced high interest rates and low commodity prices. Its mission was to add value to the state’s agricultural products. That mission continues today. AURI receives funding through appropriations to the Department of Agriculture and works to increase business and employment opportunities related to agriculture by focusing on four areas: food, renewable energy, bio-based products and coproducts, which are ag byproducts such as soybean fiber.

Dan Skogen, AURI government relations director, said his organization helps a broad cross section of Minnesotans – existing business, entrepreneurs, producers, cooperatives, etc. – get the help they need to make new ideas and ventures a reality.

“We have a client who has an idea, and we want to create a job with that idea,” Skogen said. “We are unique. We offer technical assistance the clients struggle to find or afford.”

AURI has labs and scientists who are able to provide much of the expertise that is needed, but will also connect clients to other experts if necessary. Skogen said the organization is working on about 120 projects at any given time.

Curren, who counts Caribou Coffee and Dunn Bros Coffee among his customers, currently outsources much the work done to make his repurposed products to others in the community. But he does plan to grow his business and add employees to the payroll.

“I think it sounds like an excellent example of public/private partnerships working together for success,” Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) said.

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