Breaking Ground on Innovation

Late last year, Minnesota’s ag community saw the fruition of years of efforts to develop a new pipeline for the state’s soybean growers and other producer’s commodities. On October 28, the Ag Innovation Campus (AIC) broke ground on an oilseed crush plant and innovation center in Crookston, Minn.

Several years in the making, this event marked the fruition of many partners’ efforts to strengthen the state’s ag economy. The process began in 2018 when the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSRPC) devoted checkoff dollar funds for a feasibility study for a regional soybean crush and biodiesel facility in northwest Minnesota. Based on the study’s results, the city of Crookston, Minn. rose to the top of the list of potential homes for this facility. From there, the vision for this new campus evolved into a site utilizing advanced technology to also serve as an incubator for various ag industry innovations from throughout the state.

“In Minnesota, we are proud of the strong innovation and collaboration in our ag community,” says Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. “The Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston is a perfect example of this unique Minnesota ingenuity. 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.”

MSRPC conducted an advocacy campaign to raise an additional $5 million from the State Legislature. This was later approved as part of the bipartisan omnibus agriculture finance bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz. The Legislature provided the funding to the AIC in September 2020. Following the appropriation, the AIC received the necessary permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in October.

Since then, the AIC has acquired 10-acres of land and broke ground in late October 2020, which is the first step in building and operating a nearly 70,000 sq ft crush plant and innovation center.

Soybean production in northwest Minnesota has increased by more than 300 percent in the past 20 years. Although the Ag Innovation Campus would improve the profitability of farmers throughout the state, the 11 northwest Minnesota counties that would see the most gain from the Campus produced more than 50 million bushels of soybeans in 2019.

“We’re fortunate to have hard-working farmers and families across the state who use their crops to make life better for all of us,” says Representative Jeanne Poppe (DFLAustin), past House Ag Committee chair. “The state investment in the Ag Innovation Campus tells farmers that we care about you, we value your contributions, and we believe in your ability to innovate and lead our ag economy forward.”

The purpose of this new campus is to increase economic opportunities for all farmers by helping them maximize crop value, increase employment opportunities and take advantage of current markets in biodiesel, soybean oil, soybean meal and glycerin. In doing so, some experts predict the AIC could have as much as a 10-fold economic return.

In addition to the crushing facility, the campus will provide educators, innovators and private businesses access to affordable facilities. Once established, the Campus will include research bays for private industry to develop products benefitting Minnesota’s ag sector.

The Agriculture Research Utilization Institute (AURI) was an early supporter of the AIC and is proud to be a part of the project.

“AURI is excited to see the Ag Innovation Campus advance and become a resource for the agricultural industry and innovation ecosystem,” says Shannon Schlecht, AURI’s executive director. “AURI has had a 30-year presence in Crookston and plans to have an office and laboratory presence at this new facility upon completion to capitalize on the synergies of the Ag Innovation Campus goals and AURI’s mission of fostering long-term economic benefit to Minnesota through value-added agricultural products.”

The Ag Innovation Campus promises to be a forward-thinking force for Minnesota and the country. To keep track of the project, go to www.mnsoybean.org.

Revised March 4, 2021.

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