July 16, 2024

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Pioneering Technological Innovation

Partners in Agriculture highlights how industry is embracing technology in ways surprising and familiar – West Central Tribune

4 min read

WILLMAR

— Electric tractors, robotic feeding systems for beef and dairy herds, drones that spray fields with pesticides, and a machine that uses infrared energy to dehydrate food waste allowing it to be “upcycled” as human food or processed into a biodegradable material to replace plastic.

Agriculture’s embrace of technology was on full display as the

MinnWest Technology Campus

and the

Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission

hosted the annual Partners in Agriculture conference Tuesday on the campus in Willmar.

Also on display: Innovation and entrepreneurship.

Look no farther than west central Minnesota to find both. Samantha VanHeuveln, of Kerkhoven, told the story of how she and her husband, Clinton, grew their business,

K & S Poultry and Meats

.

Samantha VanHeuveln, K & S Poultry and Meats, described how she and her husband, Clinton, have expanded their meat processing operation at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18, 2024 in Willmar.

Samantha VanHeuveln, K & S Poultry and Meats, speaks June 18, 2024, at the Partners in Agriculture conference in Willmar where she described how she and her husband, Clinton, have expanded their Kerkhoven meat processing operation.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

What began as a small room for butchering their own chickens has grown into a licensed and state-inspected meat processing shop where they now process beef and pork as well as poultry.

Erin Lucas spoke about the Flour and Flower and The Krewe, both in St. Joseph, Minnesota, that she and partner Mateo Mackbee own and operate. They are devoting time and energy now as well to The Land, rural Spicer, according to the presentation at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18, 2024 in Willmar.

Erin Lucas speaks about businesses Flour and Flower and The Krewe, both in St. Joseph, Minnesota, that she and partner Mateo Mackbee own and operate. They are devoting time and energy now as well to The Land, rural Spicer, according to the presentation at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18, 2024 in Willmar.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

A desire for social justice motivated chefs and partners Erin Lucas and Mateo Mackbee to co-found two businesses in St. Joseph. Lucas operates

Flour & Flower

in St. Joseph, where she create pies and pastries for take-out. Mackbee, a Cajun chef with his roots in New Orleans, offers a wide range of cuisine at

The Krewe

restaurant in St. Joseph.

Mateo Mackbee, owner and chef at the Krewe in St. Joseph is also putting his energies into operations at The Land, rural Spicer. He spoke at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18, 2024 in Willmar.

Mateo Mackbee, owner and chef at the Krewe in St. Joseph, is also putting his energies into operations at The Land in rural Spicer. He spoke at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18, 2024, in Willmar.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Now, the two are also turning their energies to

The Land

in rural Spicer. They spoke of providing farm-to-table meals and of Mackbee’s interest in raising local foods. Plans include diversifying the trees in the apple orchard at the popular site.

Technology is playing a big role in how

Hanson Silo

in Lake Lillian continues to evolve. Started in the 1920s to erect its signature silos, the company is a leading manufacturer of precast concrete bunkers and silos for storage.

Mike Hanson, a fourth-generation family member, told of two recent innovations. The company produces an automated feeding system for livestock confinement facilities and a “bubbler,” or aeration system, for the liquid manure captured below the buildings. The aeration greatly increases the nutrient value of the manure while reducing odor issues.

Mike Hanson, Hanson Silos, Lake Lillian, spoke about the company's new products at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18, 2024 in Willmar.

Mike Hanson, of Hanson Silo in Lake Lillian, speaks about the company’s new products during his presentation June 18, 2024, at the Partners in Agriculture conference in Willmar.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Environmental stewardship and technology are the driving forces for

NetZero

, headquartered in Minneapolis. Sue Marshall, company co-founder, said its infrared technology makes it possible to “upcycle” food wastes into new revenue-producing products.

She described how the company’s system can be used to help turn used distillers and brewers grains into edible products. In one example, she showed how the grains can be made into drinking cups that are like sugar-cones for ice cream. They can be either composted or consumed after use.

Sue Marshall, co-founder of Netzero, spoke about her firm's technology that uses infrared heat to remove water from food wastes and allow them to be "upcycled" for use as food or materials for packaging and other products. She spoke at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18 in Willmar.

Sue Marshall, co-founder of NetZero, speaks Tuesday about her firm’s technology that uses infrared heat to remove water from food wastes and allow them to be “upcycled” for use as food or materials for packaging and other products. She spoke at the Partners in Agriculture conference June 18, 2024, in Willmar.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Joseph Encinas,

ABC Drones LLC

of rural Rochester, Minnesota, demonstrated how his company’s drones allow farmers to monitor their fields and even take over aerial spraying operations. Its largest drone can spray 50 acres an hour at two gallons per acre.

The biggest trends for on-farm technology are in sensors to collect more data for farmers, and automation to reduce labor needs, according to Curt Yoose, agriculture instructor with

Ridgewater College

.

While the conference made evident the new opportunities for agriculture in today, it also included information on some of the modern-day challenges agriculture faces.

Dustin Kotrba, with

Christianson CPAs & Consultants

, Willmar, addressed the many tax issues farmers must navigate. He warned that the trend is upward. “Tax rates are unlikely to come down and become cheaper,” he said.

Nancy Miller, human resources manager and consultant, Vinna Human Resources, Willmar, outlined the new and expanded responsibilities for employers at the Partners in Agriculture conference on June 18 in Willmar.

Nancy Miller, owner and human resources consultant with Vinna Human Resources, Willmar, outlines new and expanded responsibilities for employers during her presentation at the Partners in Agriculture conference June 18, 2024, in Willmar.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Meeting labor needs is another growing issue for farmers. Nancy Miller, of

Vinna Human Resources

in Willmar, outlined changes and the expansion in labor laws. There are few exemptions for agricultural workers, and employers have new responsibilities with the state’s new Earned Safe and Sick Time, Paid Family Leave and Women’s Economic Security Act legislation.

She urged employers to be diligent about learning and complying with the requirements they now have. The penalties for not meeting the requirements are significant, and retroactive, she warned.


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