Ag Innovation Campus garners more sponsors
Sponsors include Farmers Union Enterprises, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.
CROOKSTON, Minn. — The Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston, Minnesota, has attracted interest from investors who have donated funds or in-kind contributions to the oilseeds crushing plant.
A major donor is Farmers Union Enterprises, which announced in early January that it will make a $1.5 million donation to help finance the Ag Innovation Campus. Farmers Union Enterprises is made up of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin organizations. Farmers Union Enterprises will have a seat on the AIC board, which will bring the number of its members to seven.
Other major donors also would have an option to be on the Ag Innovation Campus board, said Tom Slunecka, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council CEO.
Other sponsors include Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.
The Ag Innovation Campus plant is being constructed in three phases. Ground was broken for the first phase of the plant in October 2020.
The AIC is being paid for with loans and by private industry, state and national soybean checkoffs and funding allocated by the Minnesota Legislature. The 2019 Ag Omnibus bills provided $5 million in funding and the 2022 Minnesota Legislature approved an additional $750,000.
Construction of Phase 1 of the plant, which is estimated to cost about $20 million, is complete and equipment is being installed. The facility is expected to launch the commissioning stage — ensuring that its components and systems are operating — in March 2023 and plans to begin accepting soybeans by the summer.
While the facility in the beginning will be equipped to crush oilseeds — like soybeans, canola and pennycress, an oilseed cover crop — in the future it will also be able to mill grains, including wheat, corn and barley.
The AIC has made sufficient progress on Phase 1 that it is beginning on phases 2 and 3, said Slunecka said.
Plans for Phases 2 and 3 include constructing demonstration bays for innovative agricultural research conducted by new startup companies; a training site for process professionals that will be operated in conjunction with local education centers and technology companies; and construction of a space to house the AURI , now located on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus.
“Phases 2 and Phase 3 are when this project really starts to have an exciting presence and starts to really make a difference in the local community,” Slunecka said.
Farmers Union Enterprises is financially supporting AIC because the plant, besides crushing soybeans, will offer opportunities for research on soybeans and other oilseed crops, said Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farmers Union president and retired Renville, Minnesota, farmer.
“We have to keep finding more uses for our crops,” Wertish said. “We just think it opens a lot of possibilities as you go into the future.“
Besides Farmers Union Enterprises, other AIC supporters include Pheasants Forever and Brushvale Seed Inc., Breckinridge, Minnesota, which has donated equipment, Sunecka said. Pheasants Forever has a partnership with the plant to plant habitat in the draining pond for pheasants and other birds