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Ag Innovation Campus set to launch construction this spring

The original price tag of the plant has risen by 40% to about $12 million as a result of COVID-19, which caused the cost of construction materials to soar.

Soybeans drop from the bottom of a semi into slats above a storage bin.
The Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston, Minnesota, plans to crush 2.5 million bushels of soybeans annually.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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CROOKSTON, Minn. — Barring delays in securing construction materials, the Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston will be open for harvest delivery of soybeans, said Tom Slunecka, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council CEO.

Ground was broken on the plant, which will be located on 10 acres in southwest Crookston, in October 2020, and dirt work began in August 2021.

The plant annually will crush 2.5 million bushels of soybeans purchased from grain elevators within a 45-mile radius of Crookston. The original price tag of the plant has risen by 40% to about $12 million as a result of COVID-19, which caused the cost of construction materials to soar.

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association plans to ask the Minnesota Legislature for an additional $2.5 million in funding, Slunecka said. The Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 31.

The 2019 Ag Omnibus bills, signed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on May 30 that year, provided $5 million for the Ag Innovation Campus.

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Besides the additional $2.5 million request to the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association is working to secure funding through the checkoff, with industry partners and a “whole lot of other interested clients,” Slunecka said.

“We need the support of the industry because it’s not for profit,” he said.

The goal of the Ag Innovation Campus is to crush about 8,000 bushels of soybeans per day, which would be enough to serve about 30% of the regional market. Prospective customers for the high-value soybean meal the plant will produce include the Minnesota poultry and dairy industries and Canadian feeder pig operations.

The 2.5 million bushels of soybeans that AIC estimates it will process annually would approximately represent the production of 61,000 acres of Minnesota and North Dakota soybeans.

In 2020, Minnesota soybean production totaled 359.2 million bushels, and production in Polk County, where the plant will be built, was 11.2 million bushels, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. North Dakota 2020 soybean production was 193.8 million bushels, the statistics service said.

Construction work on AIC is expected to begin when the ground thaws this spring and be completed by the fall soybean harvest.

“We're still anticipating we will be crushing this year’s beans,” Slunecka said. ”Our intent is to partner with local elevators so everyone in the community gets a piece of the value.”

Initially, any price premium on the soybeans purchased by AIC would be the result of an improved basis, he said.

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Eventually, if more funding is secured for the Ag Innovation Campus, the facility will proceed with phases two and three of the project, which is to crush other specialty oilseed crops, such as canola, and to build additional research bays for private industries, universities and commodity organizations.

A potential source for the second and third phases, in addition to financial support from the industry partners and the checkoff, is profit from crushing, Slunecka said.

“At this point in time, crush margins are high, which means that at some point, we will be able to finance the entire vision,” he said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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