The Beginning: Willmar Poultry and Egg Company
Willmar Poultry Company (WPC) first opened its doors in July 1945 under the name Willmar Poultry and Egg Company. The founders, Albin Norling, Albert Huisinga and Herman Nelson were, among other things, turkey farmers who were reliant on processors to pay growers a fair price for their meat. In what would become the theme for the next six decades, those founders decided to take matters into their own hands and see if they could do things better for themselves. Herman Nelson, Albert Huisinga’s brother-in-law, soon sold out of the business, leaving the Huisinga and Norling families in charge; the two families still run the business today.
From Family Business to Industry Leader
In 1951, Albert’s nephew, Ted Huisinga, joined the company and seven years after that, Albin’s son Ray came on board. Ted and Ray immersed themselves in the business and worked together to grow the company from a small family business to an industry leader.
Ted Huisinga and Ray Norling were at the forefront of much of the Minnesota turkey industry’s growth during the 1960s and 1970s. Following Al and Albin’s theme of “we can do it better in-house,” Ted and Ray poured resources into research and development in all areas of the business. They began eviscerating turkeys and shipping them on ice to prevent spoilage in lieu of New York-dressed, which was the standard of the time. They designed and produced plastic poult boxes that could be sanitized and reused, eliminating the need for costly single-use cardboard. They worked very closely with researchers at the University of Minnesota and other industry experts to track, control, and in some cases, help eradicate disease from Minnesota flocks. After a devastating hatchery fire in 1978, they adopted and perfected automated incubation controls in their new hatchery, which catapulted WPC to the top of the industry in terms of poult production.
A Need for Expansion
“Doing it better in-house” didn’t stop at the hatchery. Albert Huisinga spent a lot of time in the 1950s and 1960s convincing local farmers to start growing turkeys, but the growers complained about the high cost of medication, barn supplies, feed and propane. So WPC started an equipment supply company (PALS), a feed mill (Farm Service Elevator) and a propane distributorship (PALS Propane). When turkey disease outbreaks occurred, the R&D arm of WPC set to work making vaccines. Ted and Ray state that they did these things because they saw the need to support the local growers and because they thought they could do it better than others could.
Technology and Colaboration
After the hatchery fire and ultimate success of the incubation technology, Huisinga and Norling became known as businessmen who were not afraid to take a risk on new technology. This reputation led entrepreneurs and researchers to seek them out for funding for their ideas. Nova-Tech Engineering got its start because Ted and Ray funded the materials for Marc Gorans’ research into humane and cost-effective beak and claw treat processes. Epitopix was born because Ted and Ray funded Dr. Daryll Emery’s research into SRP technology. The MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar exists because Ted and Ray, in concert with Nova-Tech Engineering, had a vision of a technologically advanced, collaborative community for companies to start or grow businesses in all aspects of the life sciences.
Today, Ted Huisinga and Ray Norling lead twelve affiliated companies, under the umbrella of Life-Science Innovations and employ over 1,500 people across the country. Their companies do business on six continents. They own the country’s largest private technology campus and continue to support high level research and development to support and grow their foundational industry – turkeys. They place high value on stewardship, innovation and integrity, and show no signs of slowing down. From a small processing plant to the country’s largest producer of commercial poults, Ted Huisinga and Ray Norling have led the way.