Every biennium AURI conducts a broad scale research project, during which the organization’s staff meets face-to-face with representatives from various ag-related stakeholder groups to gain insight into the current industry challenges and opportunities. The results of this research provide an opportunity to identify stakeholder priorities and industry sentiments while finding areas of strategic synergy and collaborative opportunities.

In 2019 AURI’s staff conducted more than 40 interviews with stakeholder groups from throughout Minnesota’s ag sector. Over the course of the interviews a number of common themes rose to the surface, indicating a certain level of mutual experiences across the sector. Below are four of the most common themes discovered though the stakeholder analysis process as well as insight into how AURI plans to address these areas for the benefit of Minnesota agriculture.

1) The agriculture ecosystem is becoming more diverse, complex and ambiguous, requiring networking, cross-collaboration and marketing expertise.

With so many new entrants into Minnesota’s ag landscape (e.g. hemp, cover crops, new oil seeds) and new value chains developing there is an ever-increasing need for additional collaboration partners to maintain a high level of focus on organizational priorities. Essentially, organizations can no longer afford to try to be everything to everyone. Instead, as the ecosystem expands and becomes more complex, organizations need to rely more on other expertise through collaborations.

To address this theme, AURI plans to spend much of 2020 amplifying messaging and communication to build awareness of AURI activities, especially as it relates to meeting direct stakeholder needs. This includes convening networking events with educational components, and addressing the increasing complexity of ecosystems while helping develop more deliberate connections between interested parties.

2) Stakeholders work toward fair and competitive promotional practices and social responsibility.

This theme stems from a number of groups who referred to concepts like local sourcing and truth in labeling. These same organizations also indicated a desire for greater environmental stewardship and fair international trade policies. What this tells us is that organizations are approaching strategies from a more transparent and holistic position. This is important to recognize, because it denotes a realization of growing consumer-based trends, to which producers and value chains must react.

In this case, AURI will undertake various steps to enable stakeholders in achieving their desired outcome. First, AURI will build programming and services intended to increase awareness and inclusion of locally sourced ingredients, while at the same time, the organization will explore, vet and catalyze commercialization of functional properties of MN-grown/raised agricultural products. AURI will also continue its value-chain work on novel crops via emerging crop roundtable opportunities to help develop new ingredient opportunities along with new environmental stewardship benefits.

3) One third of stakeholder’s report ongoing concerns of uncontrollable obstacles.

AURI staff received numerous comments throughout this research project about frustrations related to long-term down cycles, low commodity prices, limited equity and challenging farm transfers. Interviewers found that respondents felt these were all issues outside of their control, which contributed to a high level of financial and emotional anxiety and low morale.

The most effective way AURI can address this theme is by continuing to pursue its mission—specifically through the development of value-added agricultural products to help add value and offset basic commodity supply risk. A good example of this is the organization’s efforts to evaluate protein concentrates and isolates made from MN crops. Also, AURI is committed to continuing the exploration of opportunities for biobased products from fibers, resins, oils, etc.

In taking these steps, AURI can help create new opportunities for producers to both diversify cropping options while also adding value to existing and new crop opportunities, which, in turn, helps mitigate market risk.

4) Emerging innovations on the horizon provide flourishing opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Respondents were quick to acknowledge that part of their optimism was rooted in their belief the agriculture sector is on the cusp of enhanced scientific technologies and processes, new uses for commodities and ag residues, better consumer communications and significant advances in plant and animal health.

In order to support these opportunities, AURI will continue to optimize its facilities, equipment and technical know-how as it relates to new and ongoing industry needs. At the same time, it will continue to build upon its expertise in supply/value chain development to build new and emerging industry sectors and improve existing and legacy supply chains.