Ag Innovation Campus holding groundbreaking ceremony

Campus to host specialty crushing facility, giving universities, commodity groups and private seed developers access to affordable processing.

October 27, 2020

4 Min Read
Ag Innovation Campus holding groundbreaking ceremony

After decades of soybean checkoff research and development, the Ag Innovation Campus (AIC) in Minnesota is ready to take a step forward. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz will join a bipartisan group of elected officials in Crookston, Minn., this week for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate construction of a 67,000 sq. ft. soybean crush facility.

“We’ve been working toward this day for a long time, and it will be quite a moment to see the Ag Innovation Campus begin to become a reality,” said AIC board chair Mike Skaug, who farms in nearby Beltrami, Minn. “Many people across our industries have played a role in this coming to fruition, and we’re looking forward to honoring all the parties who are doing their part to help improve the economic outlook for Minnesota agriculture.”

The ceremony has been several years in the making. In 2018, the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) invested checkoff funds in a feasibility study to support a regional soybean crush and biodiesel facility in northwestern Minnesota. From this work, Crookston emerged as the ideal location.

As the work progressed, a new vision for the AIC evolved. This cutting-edge site will provide a location to incubate other agriculture industry innovations under a mission of using Minnesota soybeans to create new products and jobs and generate myriad economic benefits for rural communities.

“The council sees the campus as a wise use of checkoff resources,” MSR&PC chair Cole Trebesch said. “The campus will foster an environment for unlimited potential for value-added ag products. The Ag Innovation Campus will add value to soybeans in the region and can boost rural economies throughout the state while expanding opportunities for farmers and industry alike.”

The AIC aims to improve the economic outlook for farmers across the country. It will allow farmers to maximize the value of their crops, increase jobs spanning a skill set ranging from management to utility labor and take advantage of current markets in biodiesel, soybean oil, soybean meal and glycerin.

'Full-steam ahead'

In 2019, spurred by a passionate advocacy push from Minnesota Soybean Growers Assn. (MSGA) directors, the Minnesota Legislature approved $5 million toward the AIC in the bipartisan omnibus agriculture finance bill signed by Walz.

“In Minnesota, we are proud of the strong innovation and collaboration in our ag community. The Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston is a perfect example of this unique Minnesota ingenuity," Walz said. "It will provide valuable jobs and industrial research opportunities in northwest Minnesota and spark a new wave of processing and value-added opportunities across the state, and it will open new markets for our farmers and the ag industry as a whole. I was proud to sign into law the bill that financed this project, and I am grateful to the legislative and industry partners that helped make it possible.”

The funding was released to the AIC in September 2020. In October, the center received crucial air permitting approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, paving the way for construction to begin.

“The MSGA team has put its grassroots advocacy in action behind the Ag Innovation Campus,” MSGA president Jamie Beyer said. “We’re thankful for the bipartisan support we’ve received from across the spectrum. Crookston officials have endorsed this project, along with the legislature and Gov. Walz’s administration.”

The AIC in Crookston will host a specialty crushing facility, providing universities, commodity groups and private seed developers with access to affordable processing that aims to lower costs while promoting growth of value-added products. Once established, the campus will be home to private industries to create products to benefit all parties, from farm gate to consumers. A fully operating AIC will employ up to 65 staff members.

“This campus will be the first of its kind in the nation,” MSR&PC chief executive officer Tom Slunecka said. “Farmers drive agriculture with their innovation, and this project will serve that same purpose.”

Soybean production in northwest Minnesota has increased by more than 300% in the past 20 years. Although the AIC is expected to improve the profitability of farmers throughout the state, the 11 northwestern Minnesota counties that would see the most gain from the campus produced more than 50 million bu. of soybeans in 2019.

In addition to securing state funds and crucial work permits, the AIC is planning an October 2021 production goal despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The group has purchased equipment and 10 acres of land in Crookston for construction. The AIC is opening an office in the Crookston area, and a website and social media campaign will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

“It’s full-steam ahead on the Ag Innovation Campus,” Skaug said. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how the project has progressed so far. It’s been a total collaborative effort.”

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