General Mills and South Dakota State University (SDSU) announced the opening of a state-of-the-art oat variety development lab on the Brookings campus. The Oats Research Laboratory will focus on advancing the sustainability and quality of oats in the US.
“We’re honored to be here working alongside some of the brightest agricultural researchers in the country,” said Jim Kirkwood, vice president and chief science and technology development officer at General Mills. “Our company has made a public commitment to source 100% of our oats by 2020 from growing regions that demonstrate continuous improvement against industry-based environmental metrics. Having a venerable institution like SDSU as a partner will allow us to do more innovative oat breeding research in the labs and fields – and get us to that goal.”
The new collaborative oat research laboratory, housed in the Young Brothers Seed Technology Building, includes labs, greenhouses and access to field trials. General Mills agronomists and plant breeders will work alongside the university’s plant science department comprised of plant breeders, grain scientists, seed experts, environmental scientists, field station managers and student researchers. Together, their efforts will focus on improving the nutritional qualities of oats; developing better performing oat varieties with higher yields; and helping farmers improve agronomy practices to increase sustainability.
“At South Dakota State University, we believe strongly in public/private partnerships and the synergies they bring to research and innovation,” said Dr. Barry H. Dunn, president of the institution. “This relationship combines an international innovator in consumer foods and the leading land-grant institution in the country’s second largest oat-producing state. The new laboratory will be a powerful shared opportunity to enhance agricultural productivity and food production, and help stimulate sustainable economic growth and prosperity.”
South Dakota is a natural fit for the lab because the state was ranked second in U.S. oat production in 2015 and the public breeding program is one of the mainstays of South Dakota’s agriculture experiment station. Oats, unlike other commodities like corn and soybeans, do not benefit from large scale private or commercial breeding programs. In addition, oats are a critical part of the crop rotation in the state, providing soil health benefits, reducing soil erosion, requiring fewer inputs and no irrigation water while producing a nutrient rich product.
“We have a responsibility as a public-land grant university and agricultural experiment station to provide growers in our state and throughout the U.S. oat varieties and production systems that optimize profitable production and meet the needs of their markets,” said Dr. Daniel Scholl, Interim Dean of the College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences, and Director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. “South Dakota growers prompted and helped the revitalization of oat variety development at SDSU and this scientific partnership with General Mills, a major buyer of South Dakota oats brings value right back to the oat grower.”
Oats are at the core of General Mills’ business, with more than 600 products in the company’s U.S. portfolio containing oats. In fiscal 2015, 25% of the company’s U.S. retail sales volume comprised products containing whole grain oats. Since 1941, the company has brought the power of oats to consumers when Cheerioats were introduced – the first ready-to-eat cereal made from oats, now better known as Cheerios. As one of the largest buyers of North American oats, General Mills hopes that by partnering with the top researchers and agronomy students at SDSU will enable the company to improve the quality and supply of oats, and increase the profitability of the crop for U.S. farmers.