The Minnesota Crop Improvement Association held its 116th annual meeting in Fergus Falls on Jan. 9. The MCIA is the official certification authority for seed and noxious weed-free forage and mulch. The MCIA meeting hosted speakers to inform Minnesota farmers of seeding updates across Minnesota, updates to MCIA, organic agriculture opportunities, and more.
The MCIA annual meeting kicked off Jan. 9 with an update from the Minnesota Approved Seed Conditioners about the future of their organization. The group provides certified seed to members across the state of Minnesota. Their decision at the MCIA meeting was to dissolve due to low membership, lack of a board, and the ultimate resignation of the longtime serving executive director, Ken Schuster. Those in Minnesota looking to find certified seed will still be able to do so via other avenues.
“The biggest change is probably the number of members and the overall use of certified seed,” Schuster said. “We used to have a couple hundred seed conditioners who were processing their own seed, much of that has changed.”
One major update the MCIA announced at their annual meeting was in releasing their new updated Seed Certification Handbook which hosts several updates to the certification process for Minnesota seed farmers. These changes primarily focus around how bags, totes, and bulk is labeled, the addition of a new form, and other small updates. The new handbook can be found on the MCIA website.
Mark Abrahamson from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture gave an update on what the MDA is up to in 2019. Abrahamson focused on noxious and invasive weeds in Minnesota, particularly Palmer Amaranth, which showed up in soybean fields for the first time in 2018. The other program Abrahamson spoke about was the Seed Inspection Program which helps prevent noxious weeds from spreading.
“The purpose of this program is to establish and enforce noxious weed laws,” Abrahamson said. “Minnesota, like every other state, has a list of noxious weeds for which either control is required or sale is prohibited. That is something that is maintained at the state level but we work with the county Ag inspectors who are our main partners in enforcing that noxious weed law.”
Also discussed at the MCIA meeting was the 2018 Farm Bill, particularly the changes around hemp. Hemp has been removed from the federal controlled substances list allowing states to grow it without starting pilot programs. States are unlikely to be able to start growing hemp outside of pilot programs until 2020.
Also awarded at the event were the Premier Seedsman awards to Dan Nietfeld, John Walkup, and honorary Premier Seedsman Bruce Abbs.
Members also discussed a potential future soybean crushing plant near Crookston, Minn., how plants are commercialized and patented, and more.
Tom Slunecka from the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council spoke at the annual meeting about his work with the council and their hopes to open a large-scale crush facility with a connected biodiesel plant.
According to Slunecka, the organization looked across the state for areas where they could reasonably put a large scale soybean crushing plant and discovered space very close to the University of Minnesota Crookston campus.
“In Crookston, the research and promotion council funded two feasibility studies,” Slunecka said. “The first feasibility study went across the state to figure out what area would most aptly work to put in a medium to large sized crush facility, so they crossed the state, all the way from the northeast to the southwest. They found a location in Crookston that seems to be perfect.”
Slunecka presented this opportunity at the meeting because the project would require either a large scale agriculture business to take most of the responsibility for the business or for farmers to take a co-op model to the facility. There is no similar-sized facility in the state of Minnesota.
University of Minnesota’s B.J. Haun also spoke at the annual meeting about the technology of commercializing new crop varieties.
The University of Minnesota’s agriculture and horticulture departments develop approximately 400 new “inventions” each year, patenting half of them. This brings in around $16 million in revenue for the University of Minnesota according to Haun.
“With the open release varieties, the idea here is to get as many people growing it as possible,” Haun said. “Our license to the world is to nurseries but the nurseries are ultimately the ones promoting this apple and getting growers to grow it. We are seeking to cast a wide net to maximize sales. The alternate path is called the management pub variety, and the goal here isn’t necessarily to get as many trees in the ground. The goal is find producers who are going to put forth the effort to produce consistent, high-quality apples, year in and year out. We choose to release some apples like this because they are head and shoulders better than anything else out there and we want one partner that will go all out on marketing and ultimately distributing this apple.”
The way the U of M does this generally follows one of two models, the license model, whose goal is to connect the crop to the value chain and the open release, whose goal is to gain max acreage. Haun gave the crop examples of soybeans where one might want to use the license model when producing a new type of soybean and wheat where one might want to use the open release because wheat is less specialized.
Royalties from patent at the U of M income is split three ways, a third going to the inventors, a third going to the college, and a third going directly back into the department where the invention came from.