Land O'Lakes Inc. has opened a $40 million innovation center in River Falls, Wis., that includes a pair of special wind tunnels and other advanced systems to help bring products to market more quickly.

The center will be run by WinField United, the crop products and consulting division of the Arden Hills-based cooperative.

Land O'Lakes President and CEO Chris Policinski said it takes one to five years for products to be developed, and the aim of the new center is to accelerate that process toward more sustainable use of agricultural chemicals and nutrients.

"The research and testing performed here will enable more targeted applications of crop protection products, which benefits both applicators and farmers," he said.

The 55,000-square-foot center will employ about 45 people and replaces a much smaller center that is also located in River Falls.

Mike Vande Logt, executive vice president and chief operating officer of WinField United, said the new lab and research complex will be the epicenter of the company's research effort. It will use state-of-the-art technology, including the wind tunnels, to test different products that farmers apply by spray, ranging from seed treatments and plant nutrition products to herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

One of the wind tunnels focuses on droplets of different products, to be sure they are large enough to go where they are intended on fields, yet not too small to drift elsewhere. The other tunnel will simulate ground speed and air speed to see how velocity affects spraying, he said.

"Products like fungicides are often applied by air, so in the wind tunnel the nozzle itself will be going 200 miles an hour, and testing how the droplets perform," he said.

Any products developed in labs will then be tested in plots around the country, Vande Logt said, both to validate their effectiveness and collect data that can help farmers making decisions about various products.

The company's expanded presence also means that it will continue a 27-year partnership with the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Dale Gallenberg, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, said that for many years WinField has rented some university farmland to test its products outdoors, and has hired both summer interns and full-time employees from the university.

"It's very much a win-win scenario for WinField as well as for UW-River Falls," he said. "We're very grateful that they decided to stay here instead of locating elsewhere."

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388