minnwest: preserving history while influencing the future

MinnWest: Preserving History While Influencing the Future

January 12, 2021 Laura Orsten

Throughout our organization’s history, our leaders have balanced taking risks with being good stewards of our businesses and our people. The MinnWest Technology Campus, located in Willmar, Minnesota, is the perfect example of this.

The campus has a proud history as one of Minnesota’s oldest, state-owned and operated healthcare facilities. Originally constructed in 1912, the charming stucco buildings display architectural details in the Spanish Colonial and Renaissance styles, which were popular at the time.

At the height of its operations, this historic healthcare facility provided hundreds of jobs, cared for hundreds of patients and created a strong foundation for our local economy.  In 2004, the state began implementing changes to its healthcare delivery system that would eventually relocate or cut most of those jobs, leaving many of the buildings on campus empty and idle. Soon, the once-bustling campus was vacant and its future uncertain.

In 2005, as many were still grieving the loss of jobs and apparent waste of a once-flourishing facility, creative minds were at work. Behind the scenes, Life-Science Innovations and Nova-Tech Engineering leaders were busy discussing one of the most innovative, yet risky projects ever undertaken in our area’s business history. They began asking questions like…

Could this campus be given new life as a hub for business innovation?

Could the history of these majestic buildings be preserved and protected?

Could the cornerstone of our area’s economic stability be restored?

The answers?

Yes, yes and yes!

In 2006, Life-Science Innovations and Nova-Tech Engineering purchased the 100-acre property, which is now called the MinnWest Technology Campus.  Since the purchase, significant effort and investment has gone into to renovating the campus to attract other local area businesses, with the hopes of continuing to expand. Currently, over 680 employees work on the MinnWest campus, employed by companies in agriculture, technology, and more. Maintaining the buildings built over a century ago while taking risks and investing in the future of the campus, our organization and the community is a great example of Stewardship.


Christmas Turkeys

January 12, 2021 Laura Orsten

An important aspect of Stewardship is giving back to employees. Being that we are in the turkey industry, one way we do that is by providing our employees with a free turkey for Christmas. Now you may wonder, why Christmas and not Thanksgiving? Isn’t Thanksgiving the turkey holiday? First, every holiday is a turkey holiday for us. Second, we’re pretty busy around Thanksgiving so Christmas it is!

On a serious note, our organization has been donating turkeys for many years. It all started back in 1988 with our original processing plant, Heartland Foods Co. Our owners wanted to recognize employees by giving them one of our turkeys for Christmas, and 30 years later that tradition continues. Employees are given the option to keep their turkey or donate it. If donated, it is brought to the local food shelf on their behalf. It’s a great way for both the company and employees to give back!

It’s not a monumental action to provide a turkey around the holidays, but we believe it’s the little things matter.

75 Years

November 30, 2020 Laura Orsten

It’s Willmar Poultry Group’s 75th Anniversary! As we celebrate this momentous milestone, we have made it our mission to align our 75th anniversary activities with 5 of our Core Values: Stewardship, Trustworthiness, Excellence, Innovation, and Employee Wellbeing. 

The purpose of this blog and all posts going forward through the remainder of our 75th year is to highlight our value of Stewardship. Our definition of stewardship is, “Our investment of time, talent, and treasure will do great things in the long run. We make decisions based on our responsibility to our employees, our customers, our stakeholders and our community.” Some of the ways that we plan on showing Stewardship include: 

  • We make innovative decisions for the long-term rather than short-term gains 
  • We meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability/success of future generations
  • We have the will to persevere; don’t give up, don’t give in, there’s always a solution
  • We are committed to the success of the company above our own individual interests 
  • We are engaged in fostering a strengths-based servant leadership culture in all of our partnerships 

This 75th year, we have committed to highlighting various acts of stewardship – both company and employee facing. Some examples would be a business decision that will help keep our organization around for generations to come, involvement and giving back to our community, investing in our employees and more. Stay tuned for more to come! We hope you follow along with us!

Farm Service Elevator North Load Out

November 30, 2020 Laura Orsten

We know that in order to be good stewards of our company, we must make upgrades and invest in our facilities, our people, and technology. The perfect example of this has recently been on full display at our feed mill, Farm Service Elevator, with replacing their north load out in 2019!

The north load out was in need of repair, so the leaders of FSE took the opportunity to make improvements. The new technology gives us the capability to provide an increased number of diets by blending high protein and low protein rations. This new addition helps our customers and the end consumer. Here’s how:

  1. Load out time for trucks is decreased from 15 minutes to 5 minutes = increased efficiency for the mill to serve our customers better.
  2. Increased commercial turkey feed diets from 8 to 16 and slowly stepping down protein levels through feed blending = better cost for our customers and better flock performance –> poultry is kept at an affordable price for the end consumer!

Farm Service Elevator opened its doors in 1954 and the current feed milling facility has existed since the 1980’s. Farm Service Elevator has shown our values of stewardship and innovation through this new load out system, becoming one of the first independent feed milling facilities in the country to use this groundbreaking technology that will be around for decades to come. Congratulations to the team at Farm Service Elevator!

Read more about it in the West Central Tribune here!

HatchTech Partnership

September 16, 2020 admin

Dec 2, 2020

We are excited to announce that Willmar Poultry Innovations (LSI R&D) has signed an exclusivity deal with HatchTech, out of the Netherlands, to the be sole distributor of their HatchCare technology in the U.S. and Canada. This is a big milestone in the “HeadStart Project” that our R&D arm has been focused on for the past 1.5 years! You can read an initial story in the press here: 

HatchTech, WPI Enter Strategic Distribution Partnership 

Our next goal is to measure the amount of extra value a poult will deliver to a customer when marketed if started on feedwater, and light immediately at hatch. The HatchCare machine is the only product on the market that can accomplish this service. If you’re curious to see how this works, you can view videos on the system (currently used with chickens). Here’s a link to one example: 

Watch the Video 

You may be wondering…if these HatchCare machines have been used in chickens all these years, why hasn’t it been used in turkeys? Turkeys and chickens are pretty similar right? Surprisingly, they are much different in anatomy and behaviors. Turkey poults (baby turkeys) are larger and more fragile than chicks (baby chickens) and are more sensitive to temperature and light changesPoults need a little extra encouragement to drink water at the beginning of their life whereas chicks have an easier time finding water. Because of these differences between the two, there is a need for modifications to the process/machines and extra testing to ensure the best solution is created for these newborn poults.  

Over the past two years, our team has been focused on identifying the many pros and cons of implementing a turkey HatchCare system, and the data we have uncovered is exciting! After solving key issues, and confirming small-scale positive results many times in side-by-side controlled tests, we committed to building a system scaled-up to run large trials so we can compare full barns of our birds vs. full barns of control birds coming out of standard hatching processes. Covid has made this a much slower, more painful process to accomplish – but we’re getting it done!

To create a facility to run large-scale turkey trials, we’re repurposing a building to achieve the scale needed for testing. One of our major hurdles this year has been installation! These highly complex HatchCare machines usually require an experienced technical supervisor on-site for 4-6 weeks per machine, but Covid has restricted HatchTech from sending a technician from Europe. HatchTech proposed an innovative work-around, and we have been receiving remote support from Holland via a Microsoft Hololens 2 (an augmented reality headset). Without this technology, we would have never achieved our most recent milestone; our first HatchCare machine has been powered up!

(Ray Norling with the Hololens on; Jason Burnett looking on.)

Our HatchCare machine, paired with Nova-Tech equipment, a Viscon Heartbeat detection transfer line, and a specialized HatchTraveller delivery trailer will create the backbone of the technology used to execute our large-scale process. Recently, we teamed up with WPF and Select Genetics to execute a pair of initial major runs. We are happy to announce that the HatchCare machine worked great! The days were long and grueling, but we learned a ton. Our next large egg placement is set for the first week in January.

In the meantime, we’re focused on further optimization of our processes, installation of additional equipment, and improved coordination with our partners. Solidifying a system will unlock our ability to place large-scale trials weekly out of this facility and measure poult improvement all the way to the processing plant. Once we measure concrete benefit out of this new custom hatching system, we intend to launch a new custom hatching business for the organization to serve this unique niche and revolutionize turkey hatching!

Our organization’s core value of stewardship is central to this project. Without this mindset that drives our decision making, we would not have these innovative research & development projects that will keep our organization around for generations to come. Our definition of stewardship is, “Our investment of time, talent, and treasure will do great things in the long run. We make decisions based on our responsibility to our employees, our customers, our stakeholders and our community.” Not only will this project help our organization grow, but it will  increase the quality of life of the turkeys in our care, create value in our community with more job opportunities, and increase the quality of poults that our customers receive.