URBANA, Ill. — Three circular cement pads ready for grain bins and dozens of workers getting ready to pour concrete at the University of Illinois’ new Feed Technology Center are bringing a long-time dream into reality.
It has been talked about for 20 years, said Rodney Johnson, head of the Animal Sciences Department at the university. In those two decades, there have been a few false starts because of funding challenges. But this time, a private-public partnership is making it happen.
“That’s the difference,” he said. “Having a state-of-the-art feed mill is so important to us. We couldn’t wait.”
Ground was broken June 3 with a tentative completion date of October 2020.
“We’re off to a really good start,” Johnson said.
The project nearly got off the ground in 2015. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn was supportive of it, but he wasn’t re-elected. Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) was ready with a $1.5 million check to support the project if it had gone through.
The company’s support of the idea hasn’t faded — in fact, it grew. At the Farm Progress Show in Decatur this year, ADM announced its gift of $2.5 million for construction of the Feed Technology Center to advance educational and research opportunities.
“They see value in what we do,” said Johnson, who has been on the animal science faculty for 26 years and department head since 2018.
“ADM is fortunate to have a strong partnership with the College of ACES and access to their animal nutrition staff, student talent and research capabilities as we work together to develop new products, services and solutions,” said Ryan Lane, president, ADM Animal Nutrition in North America.
The University of Illinois and the College of ACES have already committed $6 million. The remainder of the $20 million project, minus partner gifts, will be financed and paid like a mortgage, Johnson said. Work continues to find more partners to help lower that amount and retire the debt early, he said.
Because of years of delay for the project, there was initially some “skepticism” about it actually happening, but now that funding is in place, there is a lot of support, Johnson said.
Other partners already on board include the Illinois Farm Bureau.
“They are the face of agriculture in the state,” Johnson said.
Alltech has committed to assistance in feed research and an extrusion line. Gifts of equipment really help in the cost savings of the project, Johnson said.
AGCO has donated three GSI 42-foot, 15-ring grain bins and related accessories including flow fans and power sweeps. Bin construction is starting this month. The new bins will hold about 200,000 bushels of grain.
The university’s crop farms will provide grain and it will be dried on site. That will save money and offer consistency, Johnson said.
The facility will also have 16 honeycomb ingredient bins, which provides more flexibility for experimentation and research. The bins are set in concrete rather than steel for longevity, Johnson said. With the old mill being 90 years old, and a mortgage for the new center lasting up to 30 years, longevity was a factor in making a concrete decision, Johnson said.
The new facility, south of the main campus, will replace the 90-year-old outdated feed mill that isn’t in condition anymore to be a learning center for students.
It is still producing rations for animals at the south farm and has historic significance, Johnson said. Research here led to the corn-soybean livestock diet that changed the livestock industry in Illinois and internationally, he said.
The old structure will likely be torn down when the new facilities are finished, leaving valuable real estate closer to campus to meet other growing needs of the school, he said.
Johnson is enthused about the opportunities the facility in rural Urbana will have for researchers and students. The new center’s job will be to produce feed for animals at the south farm. It will have the ability to do small batches for research experiments. The facilities will include office space for conferences and academic programs.
Johnson is motivated by the thought of developing course work for feed technology and nutrition programs and other courses to be held here.
The project comes at a time when interest is high in the university’s Animal Science Department. This is one of the largest classes for this department “maybe in history,” he said. This year, 181 new students started, with a total of 559 undergraduates, which is 30 more than last year.
“We’re in growth mode,” Johnson said.
The infamous rainy June this year caused some construction delays. Drier July weather along with extra crews working two shifts helped the project catch up and it’s back on schedule again, Johnson said.
“There are no unsolvable problems,” said Thomas Mollet, ASI Industrial site manager.
ASI Industrial, was chosen as the general contractor for the project, in part for its expertise in slip form construction ideal for the concrete feed mill base, said Johnson. Pouring of the mill’s concrete starts at a depth of 16 feet below-ground and goes to 74 feet above.
“By the end of this month, there will be a huge shift in the landscape,” said Johnson, noting both the mill and three grain bills will be visible from a distance.