Turkeys looking to central Minnesota for a new home

Officials are looking at new locations for the University turkey research facility.

Emma Carew

While the threat of homeless turkeys may seem inconsequential, developments planned for UMore Park site in Rosemount have led University officials to search for a new home for their feathered research subjects.

The University’s turkey research and education facility is working with faculty and industry leaders to discuss plans for a new site, dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Science Allen Levine said.

“We’re in the exploratory stage at this point,” he said.

The University is working with local turkey growers and producers to consider a few sites as options – the Willmar area being one of them, Levine said.

Director of the Minnesota Agriculture Experiment Station Bev Durgan said Willmar is “really a center of where the turkeys are produced in Minnesota.”

Durgan and Levine were in Willmar last week to speak with possible partners in the area, like the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and Jennie-O Turkey Store, she said.

The UMore Park facility currently conducts research about egg production, nutrition for the turkeys and disease diagnostics and treatment.

“We would like to have state-of-the-art facilities,” Levine said of the new site, so the research can continue to expand.

Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, said there are four main reasons the turkey industry in Minnesota is so large and successful.

About 47 million turkeys were produced in Minnesota last year, he said.

Several of the local growers are multigenerational, he said, and there’s also a good balance of production and packaging in the area.

“We’ve had a strong history because we’re close to an affordable feed source,” he said. “Corn and soy make up about 75 percent of the costs; by being close we don’t need to pay as much for the transportation.”

Minnesota also has a “strong infrastructure,” for the turkey industry, Olson said. The growers have worked closely with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the University’s programs for research and education.

“When we’ve had challenges, or we’ve been looking at better ways to do things, (the University) has been able to help us solve a problem,” Olson said, citing disease treatment and eradication and nutrition as examples.

The University is working with the industry to “look at where we’ve been and where we need to go,” he said. “The industry’s changed, and the consumers have changed what they have in mind.”

The current facility at UMore Park has very old buildings, Olson said, and he hopes the new buildings can incorporate more automation into the turkey-handling systems.

“We’re not just going to replace the facility,” Durgan said. The University hopes to make the new site more energy-efficient, she said.

The University is also considering sites in St. Paul, Waseca and Morris, and officials hope to make a decision by the end of the year, Durgan said.