April 20 2012 12:44 PM

Secretary of Ag Vilsack with FFA studentsU.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met a dozen rural high school students at Kemin Industries on Friday to tour its Des Moines bio-tech research and manufacturing facilities and explain how bio-based manufacturing can strengthen agriculture and create jobs.

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"Today in companies like Kemin across the nation," Vilsack told the students, "there is a new emerging bio-based economy where we are essentially figuring out how to use plant material, crop residue and livestock waste to virtually create energy and fuel sources but also chemicals, plastics, fibers and fabrics. This is an enormous new opportunity that is emerging in this economy."

R.W. and Mary Nelson founded Kemin in 1961 as a maker of animal feed ingredients. Their son, Chris Nelson, continued and enlarged the operation, placing Kemin on the cutting edge of bio-tech manufacturing. Today, Kemin continues to embrace innovation, research how to use plant-based materials to manufacture ingredients with active or functional benefits for Kemin customers in manufacturing dietary supplements, functional foods and pet foods and personal care products.

Kemin is currently implementing a 5-year expansion plan that will add 6 new manufacturing facilities, 3 new research facilities and a new corporate headquarters building in Des Moines, Iowa. The company has completed the first phase of its expansion, adding a new 23,000 square foot warehouse. The second phase is underway with the building of a 46,000 square foot research and development facility – expected to be complete in the summer of 2013.

"Our business is about the future," Nelson told the students. "We've got 7 billion people on the planet, 9 billion by 2050. The burning question for anybody is how are we going to feed these people on a planet that is reaching its capacity in agriculture."

Kemin, he said, is meeting that challenge by finding new ways to improve food safety and lengthen the shelflife of foods, while also improving nutritional and health benefits.

Kemin and companies like it are the reason President Obama is seeking new trade agreements with Asian countries, Visack said, noting that China and India are expected to become the largest consumers of products made by Iowa-based Kemin.