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Illinois Farm Bureau invests in feed technology center

Unique public/private partnership, similar to lease-to-own arrangement, will enable long-awaited construction project to begin this summer.

Continuing its long-standing support of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences (ACES), the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) has announced a financial commitment to the new Feed Technology Center to be built south of campus.

“The Illinois Farm Bureau’s collaborative relationship with the College of ACES is long and impactful,” said Rodney Johnson, head of the University of Illinois department of animal sciences. “Their financial support – the first significant cash gift from one of our private partners – moves the Feed Technology Center forward in becoming the national hub for new discoveries and advancement in animal nutrition utilizing traditional and novel ingredients.”

College of ACES researchers have shaped the feed and crop production industries for decades, in partnership with Illinois farmers. As a prime example, Illinois animal scientists pioneered the modern corn/soybean meal diet for livestock and poultry that's in use nationwide, using Illinois’ top crop products. According to Johnson, the new Feed Technology Center will further strengthen relationships among the college, industry and producers and make possible animal nutrition innovations that could have an impact on the agriculture industry on a global scale.

“Breaking ground on the new Feed Technology Center is a top priority for the College of ACES. As a longtime partner, IFB wanted to show our support for this effort” IFB president Rich Guebert said. “We view our funding as an investment in the future of agriculture in Illinois.”

A unique public/private partnership, similar to a lease-to-own arrangement, will enable the long-awaited construction project to begin this summer in the ACES Legacy Corridor as part of the Campus Master Plan. The University of Illinois and the College of ACES have committed $6 million toward the $20 million project, with private partners invited to contribute toward the balance.

In late April, Alltech gifted a Wenger extruder and auxiliary processing equipment to the project.

The highly anticipated new facility will not simply replace the 1920s-era feed mill at the corner of St. Mary’s Rd. and 4th St. in Urbana, Ill.; it will cement Illinois as a nationally recognized innovation hub in animal nutrition.

“The new Feed Technology Center will significantly expand our capabilities in the animal nutrition space, which is critical for developing new diets that utilize novel ingredients, improve production efficiency in livestock and poultry and enhance the health and well-being of animals, including dogs and cats,” Johnson said when announcing the project in November 2018.

The facility will be capable of delivering 8,000 tons of specialized, small-batch research diets per year, along with numerous interdependent capabilities integrated to provide full system services. These include production and storage of grain and forages; storage of specialized diet ingredients; precise diet formulations; milling; ingredient processing, and pre-mixing, mixing, pelleting, extruding, crumbling, bagging and delivery of animal diets for research.

Researchers in the department of animal sciences, as well as other units across the university, will use the facility to prepare and test animal feed ingredients. The Feed Technology Center will also serve as a launch pad for bigger-picture work designed to advance precision animal agriculture throughout the industry.

Johnson’s vision includes using detailed, frequently collected data on feed ingredients to enable dynamic diet formulation and on animals to make appropriate management decisions in real time. He said the Feed Technology Center is an integral part of that goal, but other campus assets will help make the vision a reality. For example, byproducts of raw materials processed at the new Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory can be incorporated into diets at the Feed Technology Center, and meat products from livestock fed these diets can be studied at the Meat Science Lab.

“The Feed Technology Center is a game-changing asset that will elevate our ability to conduct innovative research while training the next generation of experts in feed science and animal nutrition,” said Kim Kidwell, dean of the College of ACES. “This facility, along with increased capacity in precision animal management, will advance our capabilities to perform industry-relevant research designed to support food production while ensuring animal well-being.”

In addition to serving as the site of faculty research, the Feed Technology Center will offer opportunities for students to safely gain hands-on experience with the latest feed technologies, positioning them as strong contenders for leadership positions within the industry. New undergraduate and graduate courses are being created to expand the curriculum in animal nutrition, including a new undergraduate concentration in feed processing technology.

The Feed Technology Center has been in the works for more than two decades, but traditional funding strategies kept it from going forward. The public/private partnership will enable this long-awaited construction project to proceed quickly.

After the $6 million financial commitment toward the facility from the University of Illinois and the College of ACES as part of a long-standing commitment to the Illinois livestock industry, approximately $14 million in private contributions are needed to reduce the financial burden of its construction on the department and college.

“Private gifts, such as this commitment from Illinois Farm Bureau, assist with sustaining and advancing the valuable discoveries, training and translation this facility will support,” Johnson said. “We welcome other stakeholders to join us in this investment.”

IFB is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a national organization of farmers and ranchers. Founded in 1916, IFB is a nonprofit membership organization directed by farmers who join through their county farm bureau. IFB has a total membership of more than 394,000 and a voting membership of 79,000 and represents three out of four Illinois farmers.

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