Group aims to make south-central Minnesota Silicon Valley of agribusiness

Farm Forum

MANKATO, Minn. — A major effort is being launched to symbolize south-central Minnesota as the “agribusiness epicenter of the United States.”

“We’re going to take the best kept secret in the Midwest and make it the best known,” said Gary Koch, of Gislason & Hunter and a member of the agriculture steering committee organized through Greater Mankato Growth.

Sheryl Meshke, of the large butter-making/dairy cooperative AMPI in New Ulm, called agriculture “a quiet giant” and said the new effort aims to increase and expand the agribusiness potential in a large swath of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

“It’s the original industry in south-central Minnesota and it’s the largest,” she said of agriculture, which has more than $6 billion in annual sales — nearly double that of the retail or manufacturing sectors.

She said developing an ag epicenter here will make it easy to attract new top talent and businesses and retain existing ones.

Jonathan Zierdt, president and CEO of GMG, said there’s no reason the region can’t become identified as an ag mecca in the same way Silicon Valley or The Research Triangle are known for their industries.

The GMG board approved a plan to commit $370,000 to the effort during the next three years. Of that, $250,000 comes from GMG’s reserves with the remainder generated through new revenues and external funding. GMG and various ag groups have been working on the idea for two years.

The group will hire an executive director to lead the effort with a goal of having someone on board by Jan. 1. “It’s likely to be someone already established in the agribusiness sector,” Zierdt said.

The group will focus on four areas: promoting agribusiness, public affairs, education, and developing a support system for existing business and marketing for new ag-related businesses.

“If you are a person or a business that finds value in being connected to the ag business industry, the South Central Minnesota Agricultural Region is where you will want to be,” Zierdt said.

Mitch Davis, of Davis Family Dairies and a steering committee member, said that while the region already has a host of major and smaller agribusinesses, there are many ancillary businesses that could be attracted here. “A lot of the technology is just getting started,” he said, referring to things such as drones used to analyze farm fields, vaccine research and new seed technologies.

The region, with some of the richest farm land in the country, has long been a leader in agriculture and agribusiness. The area produces more soybean oil than anywhere in North America. The state is fourth in the nation in ethanol production. Area hog production is among the highest in the state and nation. Mankato is home to Ridley, one of the largest animal feed producers, has a large Dupont/Pioneer seed research facility, and is home for most of the state’s farm organizations.

Zierdt said that besides hiring a point person for the new effort and getting the organization rolling, they will need to come up with a catchy name like Silicon Valley. “Right now we’ve just been calling it Project Ag.”