No small amount of grit, forward-thinking ideas and farmer leadership helped lead to a momentous occasion in Crookston as ground was broken in late October 2020 for the long-awaited Ag Innovation Campus’s small crush facility.

“This is exciting; there are opportunities here,” Gov. Tim Walz said, thanking leaders from both the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA). “(The Ag Innovation Campus) speaks volumes for what we can do.”

On a chilly fall afternoon in Crookston, Walz and AIC leaders gathered – with gold shovels in hand – at the AIC construction site for the official groundbreaking. The ceremony had been 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 research facility in northwest Minnesota. Crookston emerged as the ideal location.

As the work progressed, a new vision for the AIC evolved. This cutting-edge facility 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.

“It’s going to add a lot to the local soybean market,” said AIC board member and MSR&PC Director Tom Frisch.

“This facility is going to be the first-of-its-kind,” MSR&PC CEO Tom Slunecka said. “Ultimately, it’s the farmers and their vision and their ability to ride along on this journey that got us here. They were the core investment of this, and they’ll continue to be the leaders. We can’t do it without them.”

Spreading the good word

“It’s an exciting day to start this project and see the investment that soybean farmers have brought to Minnesota and northwest Minnesota,” MSGA President Jamie Beyer said. “This will bring jobs, research and, hopefully, we can find new uses and products for soybeans in this area.”

Governor Walz predicted the public will see a sizable return on its investment in innovation.

“This is bold; there’s no place in the world that has something like this,” he said. “People in Minneapolis – their tax dollars that help pay for this – are going to benefit greatly from this project.”

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said the AIC will help the state maintain its position at the forefront of agriculture.

“Thanks to the Minnesota Soybean Growers, Governor Walz, the state legislature and all those who have supported this project,” he said. “As a first-of-its kind facility in the country, the Ag Innovation Campus will help secure Minnesota’s reputation as a national leader in agriculture.”

The AIC in Crookston will host a specialty crushing facility, allowing universities, commodity groups and private seed developers access to affordable processing that aims to lower costs while promoting growth of value-added products. The small crush facility is owned by a nonprofit; any profits gained from the AIC will be re-invested in the Campus to continue to expand its capabilities.

“There will be a lot of synergy that will come out of this facility,” AIC Project Manager Jim Lambert said. “(The AIC) is really more of an agricultural business incubator than anything. … There are a lot of good things going on here.”

Crushing it

The AIC aims to produce about 64,000 tons of soybean meal, crushing about 8,000 bushels of soybeans per production day, enough to serve about 30% of the regional market. That equates to 2.5 million bushels a year, or 61,000 acres of soybeans. 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 60 staffers.

Slunecka credited the working partnerships established between commodity groups, Crookston officials, elected officials and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for the swift progress the AIC has made.

“This is just a perfect partnership at a time when we all need a little good news about the future,” Slunecka said. “This group is looking forward.”

“We are very excited about the possibilities the Ag Innovation Campus could lead to: the creation of the jobs, the research that will be going on here,” Crookston City Council member Jake Fee said. “We couldn’t be more excited that this is going on in Crookston.”

Walz, alluding to a tumultuous 2020, was eager to accentuate the positive and praised the AIC’s aggressive production goals.

“That ambitious timeline – that’s exactly what we need,” he said. “It’s been a little bit lean on good news, so when we get a good news story, we need to tell it.”

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