$220 million research complex hopes to find home in Mower County

Published 8:34 am Friday, February 11, 2022

Public-private partnership envisions significant advancements and contributions to Minnesota’s $112 billion annual economic impact in food and agriculture sector

 

The University of Minnesota is exploring the development of an advanced agricultural research complex in Mower County, a vision for innovative research and workforce development in Minnesota to address an important market need helping farmers and industry meet this crucial moment in sustainable food production.

Through a collaborative public-private partnership, including the U of M, elected officials and leaders from the private sector, the Future of Advanced Agriculture Research in Minnesota (FAARM) would include world-class facilities, as well as several hundred acres of fields and land to further support FAARM’s mission.

“The collaborative vision fueling this project creates an extraordinary opportunity: unmatched preparation for students as they work toward productive careers, a platform for new world-class discovery and an engine that will drive strong economic outcomes for all Minnesotans,” said U of M President Joan Gabel in a press release Thursday. “The University of Minnesota has been a leader in ag-innovation since our first days over 170 years ago. We’re proud of that legacy but we know we must continue to invest in this work and deliver practical and visionary solutions. The Future of Advanced Agriculture Research in Minnesota project exemplifies exactly that.”

From farm to fork, this complex will serve as a state-of-the-art teaching and research hub that will propel vital discoveries and further establish Minnesota’s position as a global catalyst and leader in food and agriculture innovation.

The vision is to create a modern advanced agriculture complex driven by a “one health” approach that studies every aspect of cattle, swine and poultry – from the crops used to feed them, to the intersection of human and animal health, and to the interactions of animals on soil health, water quality and climate.

“Now more than ever, our farmers and industry are operating in an increasingly fast-paced world with rapidly advancing technology,” said Brian Buhr, dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “The challenges to feed a growing population while reducing the environmental footprint of farming are critical as our climate continues to change and we pursue scientific solutions to adapt. This complex will allow us to be at the forefront of emerging food and agriculture education and research that will transform how we produce food and protect the environment at every step of the supply chain.”

The total project is estimated at about $220 million, with facility development occurring over the next five years. To support this effort, the University is asking for $60 million through a state capital request for planning, land acquisition, predesign and design of the initial phase. Additionally, the U of M anticipates funding from a variety of public and private sources, including a pledged cornerstone commitment of $60 million already made by The Hormel Foundation.

“The Hormel Foundation is excited to be partnering with the University of Minnesota in its quest to build a new agriculture research and education center in the Austin area,” said Jeff Ettinger, chair of The Hormel Foundation Board.

FAARM will deliver practical solutions for today and forward-looking ideas for tomorrow with the help of cutting-edge technology and tools, including predictive analytics, big data, robotics and artificial intelligence. Educating students on these modern approaches to agriculture will ensure a continued talent pipeline is prepared to become Minnesota’s next generation of tech-savvy food and agriculture professionals.

Through a collaboration with Riverland Community College, in Austin, Minn., FAARM also envisions providing a range of educational offerings for learners of all ages — K-12, post-secondary technical and associate degrees, baccalaureate and graduate degrees, and outreach education to the broader public. This collaboration will foster job development opportunities for the food and agriculture sector in need of increased training for its future workforce, as well as nurture entrepreneurs who will play a key role in market innovation.

“Agriculture is an important cornerstone of the economy in south central Minnesota,” said Dr. Adenuga Atewologun, president of Riverland Community College. “Riverland serves a key role preparing the region’s farmers to be successful, and I look forward to partnering with the University of Minnesota for the future benefit of the citizens and farmers of our region.”

This funding proposal is part of the University’s state legislative request for the 2022 legislative session. Each program and project in the request aims to accelerate and strengthen the University of Minnesota’s unique ability to address the most pressing challenges facing Minnesotans, today and into the future.