Ribbon cutting at new turkey research facility

Jim and Julie Balloun cut the ribbon on the Stanley L. Balloun Turkey Teaching and Research Facility near Ames. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

Facility honors pioneer in feed, poultry research

August 22, 2022 | Bethany Baratta

A new state-of-the-art turkey teaching and research facility at Iowa State University (ISU) will provide hands-on learning in modern production practices and further strengthen the state’s turkey industry.

Situated south of campus and officially welcoming turkeys this summer, the Stanley L. Balloun Turkey Teaching and Research Facility will serve as a classroom for students to immerse themselves in turkey production while advancing the state’s turkey industry. The facility is the first-ever dedicated turkey teaching and research facility. It’s also the first of its kind at a land grant university in the U.S.

Pioneer in Poultry Research

The facility honors the late Stanley L. Balloun, a former ISU animal science professor and an international expert, pioneering researcher and leader in the science of turkey feed. Balloun received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from ISU.

He is attributed with growing the demand and use of soybean meal in poultry feed.

“Dad’s work, and others in animal science, paved the real turning point in poultry nutrition,” says Jim Balloun, Stanley’s son. Jim and his wife Julie provided the lead gift for the facility.

“Through extension research, Dad and his colleagues established more precise meal acid requirements for growth in broilers and turkeys. They also created protein requirements for turkeys and showed that heating soybeans in a particular way improved the effectiveness of soybeans as part of the poultry diet,” Jim says.

Before Balloun’s extensive research, fish and meat meal were the primary components in poultry feed.

Today, more than 950 million bushels of soybeans are included in poultry feed in the U.S.

For perspective, Iowa produced nearly 622 million bushels of soybeans in 2021, a 140% increase from Iowa soybean production in the 1950s.

Farmer-led Project

The Iowa Turkey Federation, headquartered in Ames; West Liberty Foods, headquartered in West Liberty; and Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas, also invested in the Stanley L. Balloun Turkey Teaching and Research Facility.

Though backed by several funders, farmers were the driving force behind the facility, explains Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

“The reason this facility began was because turkey farmers wanted to understand how to care for their turkeys even better,” Irwin says. “Farmers really had no place to ask questions and get good answers. So, farmers came together and invested money into this facility.”

Iowa turkey farmers grew 161,000 turkeys when the feed research started in 1952. Today, Iowa ranks seventh in the nation for turkey production, raising approximately 12 million turkeys annually. Iowa’s turkey industry supports more than 38,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $10 billion annually in the state’s economic activity.

Tanner Volkmann, a recent ISU graduate, serves as the manager of the new facility. Volkmann was raised on a turkey farm near Jewell.

“With this being the only turkey facility of its kind at a major university in the country, Iowa State will continue to attract top-tier students who are interested in agriculture,” Volkmann says. “I expect the possibilities with this new endeavor to be endless.”

Expanded feed studies and a living classroom to train the next generation of turkey growers are just two examples of how the facility will contribute to the state’s robust turkey industry.

“Iowa State will continue to stay on the cutting edge of research and innovation with the help of this facility,” Volkmann says. “It will give many students an opportunity they may not have gotten elsewhere. It will prepare them with the knowledge, skills and interest in the industry to go out in the workplace and be successful.”

Irwin says having a facility dedicated to furthering the turkey industry’s research priorities will benefit future turkey farmers.

“Many generations of turkey farmers will engage with students and apply the research from this facility,” Irwin says. “We look forward to a long and active relationship with the university, students and faculty.”

The Iowa Turkey Federation represents more than 130 turkey farmers in Iowa. It was formed in 1948 to advocate for enhancing the turkey industry and its members.

Growing Opportunities

The Stanley L. Balloun Turkey Teaching and Research Facility offers continuing education, outreach, peer-to-peer opportunities for professionals in the industry and observation areas where visitors, including students, can see firsthand examples of turkey production systems and learn about turkey production.

“Protecting the health, safety and stability of Iowa’s turkey industry is essential to our state’s economic prosperity,” says ISU President Wendy Wintersteen. “Iowa State University is proud to be on the front lines with leading poultry genetics, breeding, nutrition and management.” All efforts support Iowa’s turkey industry, Irwin says.

“With the addition of this new facility, the research at Iowa State will really be all-encompassing, focusing on turkeys and what consumers want,” Irwin adds.

The facility will provide opportunities to study everything from animal behavior to feed quality, building from Stanley Balloun’s pioneering research efforts in understanding turkey diets.

“It tremendously enhances not only the turkey industry here in Iowa but the United States as well,” Irwin says. “It’s a win-win-win for growers, students and our consumers.”