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U.S. Sen. John Hoeven spoke Aug. 21, 2019, at the America's Grasslands Conference in Bismarck, N.D. After the conference, Hoeven said he is pushing for a soybean-crushing facility to be built at Spiritwood, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Sen. Hoeven pushes for soybean plant at Spiritwood

BISMARCK, N.D. — U.S. Sen. John Hoeven still expects a soybean crush facility to be constructed at Spiritwood Energy Park east of Jamestown, despite recent controversy over a cancelled agreement for such a plant at the site.

"I'm pushing very hard to try to get it," Hoeven said.

Hoeven spoke on Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the America's Grasslands Conference at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck. He spoke mostly about conservation, policy and resources for farmers and ranchers to undertake conservation projects and told the crowd that he ran out of time to talk about trade and the possibility of a soybean-crushing facility being built in the state. After his talk, Hoeven said he has been working on a regular basis on plans to get a facility up and running at Spiritwood.

North Dakota Soybean Processors in 2017 announced plans to build a soybean-crushing facility in Spiritwood. The Spiritwood Energy Park is owned by the Jamestown/Stutsman County Development Corporation, and the North Dakota Soybean Processors had an agreement with the energy park to build there. Though fundraising had proceeded slower than expected for the plant, the soybean group has said that it had necessary funding lined up by early July.

However, the Spiritwood Energy Park Association in late July terminated its contract with the soybean processors. The soybean group, in turn, sued for breach of contract.

East Central District Judge Tristan Van de Streek on Tuesday, Aug. 13, granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the Spiritwood Energy Park Association from terminating its agreement with North Dakota Soybean Processors. The energy park also is prohibited from entering into a contract with any other soybean-crushing or similar facility. A hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 4.

The prohibition on the energy park working with anyone else to put up a soybean-crushing facility has fueled speculation that the energy park has been in negotiation with another entity to start up a plant. Hoeven would not say whether he knew of anyone else planning a soybean-crushing plant at Spiritwood, citing confidentiality agreements of Stutsman County officials.

"We continue to work to get a soy crush facility in there," he said.

Hoeven said such a plant would provide another market for the state's soybean growers and reduce dependency on foreign markets. North Dakota's soybean growers have been hard hit by trade turmoil, particularly with China, which had been the biggest buyer of the state's soybeans.

On the trade front, Hoeven said he believes progress is being made with several countries. He cited a recent trade deal with the European Union, which will triple the U.S. cattle heading into Europe. He said negotiations with Japan continue, and he is optimistic a deal could be reached by the end of September. Hoeven also has heard that "there is a sense" that Rep. Nancy Pelosi will allow the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to go to the House of Representatives for approval.

Hoeven said from what he has heard, negotiations with China are making some progress, with ag and energy issue negotiations "going well." The challenges, he said, will be on issues of national security and enforcement.

During Hoeven's brief speech at the America's Grasslands Conference, he said he is "getting some seniority" on the ag committee and may be in a position to chair the Senate Ag Committee in coming years. He touted the federal, state and private partnerships that have increased focus on conservation on working lands in the U.S., along with research that has advanced the number of crops that can be grown in varying climates.

Hoeven commended the work of North Dakota's agricultural producers in maintaining and improving the land, both for production and for wildlife and soil health.

"I think our farmers and ranchers are excellent stewards of the land," he said.