University of Illinois Feed Technology Center

The massive Feed Technology Center opens near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.

URBANA, Ill. — Agricultural students and professors at the University of Illinois will have tons of new resources and technology at their disposal starting next month when the $20-million Feed Technology Center is complete.

The new facility, which will provide hands-on training for students and research facilities for professors, will be finished on time in October and on budget. This is a feat any year, but especially challenging when a good chunk of construction time is during a pandemic.

“We haven’t had any major setbacks because of COVID-19,” said Rodney Johnson, head of the Animal Sciences Department at the university.

There were often 40 workers on site at one time during construction. In all, one person tested positive for COVID-19 in April. Protocol was followed and no other cases were reported, he said.

Some materials and parts from overseas did not arrive when planned. But the contractor, ASI Industrial, reorganized the order of construction and avoided overall delays, Johnson said.

“They did an amazing job of staying on track,” he said.

The realization of the center is especially sweet because it is something the university has been working toward for 20 years. This time, neither funding, politics, nor a pandemic hampered the plan, said Johnson.

On Sept. 1, the first 600 bushels of corn was delivered to the site which now includes three GSI 42-foot ring grain bins with a capacity to hold 200,000 bushels. The first delivery was used to flush the system and get it ready to use, Johnson said.

Soon all the ingredients for feed will be brought in and the system with be ready, with opening date set for Oct. 14.

Along with the main feed tech center, an auxiliary building includes office space and conference rooms. The new complex, which grew in a cornfield on South Race Street in Urbana over the last 16 months, replaces the university’s 90-year old feed mill. The old feed mill environment was not safe or high tech enough for teaching students.

Its key location on campus will allow the university to re-purpose the former feed mill land for other needs, Johnson said.

The new feed technology center is unlike a typical university capitol project, funded by the state. It is a private-public partnership. The remainder of the $20 million, after the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ contribution of $6 million, $2.5 million from ADM, and all the financial and equipment contributions of other partners, will be paid like a mortgage, Johnson said.

It is constructed to evolve over time as technologies change, he said.

It also takes advantage of the latest technologies today such as the new Buhler equipment, which will help ensure every ration of fat, protein and water is correct in six locations of the mill. Not every batch of soybean meal is the same, for example, so adjustments can be made in real time to ensure a diet formulation is precise, Johnson said.

The grain inputs will also be more consistent, because it is grown on the university grounds and stored in the bins here rather than using grain from local elevators, which comes from many farms.

“The faculty is world renowned for animal nutrition. Before they had to go somewhere else to get rations for specialty diets,” Johnson said.

Animal science professor Maria Regina Cattai De Godoy is especially enthused about the studies where the extruder and scales can be used.

“Originally the Feed Technology Center didn’t include extrusion. I fought really hard for that for the past two years,” she said.

Extrusion is most commonly used in pet foods, but Cattai De Godoy expects to see it more extensively used in livestock feed in the future with its food safety and processing benefits. Extrusion can make nutrients more readily available for animals to digest, she said. It may help broaden ingredients used and expand research opportunities.

She sees the new center as pivotal in teaching undergraduate and graduate students about processing feed.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.