CROOKSTON, Minn. – Construction will get underway when the ground thaws on a new plant that will add value to soybeans grown by farmers across northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota.

The $5 million soybean crush plant will be in the Ag Innovation Campus being built on the southwest edge of Crookston. Besides the crush facility, the campus will have classrooms and space for private industries.

The 67,000-square-foot plant will be on 10 acres and will annually process 2.5 million bushels of soybeans into meal and oil, said Mike Skaug, a Beltrami, Minn., farmer who chairs the Ag Innovation Campus board. The Ag Innovation Campus plans to have as many as 70 employees when fully operational.

The campus will be available for use by universities, commodity organizations and private businesses to specially process their oilseed commodities.

The plant will help its users avoid the so-called “Valley of Death” that entrepreneurs often fall into when they are trying to bring an idea to fruition, said Tom Slunecka, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council CEO.

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The entrepreneurs’ projects often fail because they can’t find a place large enough to conduct viable research on their products, Slunecka said. He believes the Ag Innovation Campus will change that.

Initially the plant will crush only soybeans, but eventually plans are to crush other oilseeds, such as canola and sunflowers, and down the road, perhaps, some cover crops, such as camelina, Slunecka said.

The Ag Innovation Campus will provide an opportunity for development of oilseeds and other crops in the region that typically would be overlooked because the quantity would be too small for most crushing facilities to handle, he said.

“The development of cover crops has been limited due to the lack of processing facilities, so that there is a return on the investment for farmers to plant it. Sooner or later, we believe someone will introduce the right kind of crop to our region,” Slunecka said, noting that most crush facilities are too large to buy small amounts of specialty crops.

“Our objective is to make that space available, whether it’s a new kind of soybean or cover crop or something in-between,” he said.

Meanwhile, there are many options for using crushed soybean products, whether they are meals or hulls used in livestock production or something else, such as making them into polymers, road sealers or asphalt roofing, Slunecka said.

Crookston is an ideal location for the campus because farmers in the region, unlike in southern Minnesota where they rotate almost exclusively between corn and soybeans, grow a wide variety of specialty crops.

“It’s a really fantastic region to put this plant in because of the willingness of the farmers over the last 10 years to raise specialty crops. It’s a really, crop-wise, diverse region. This plant will highlight that,” Slunecka said.

This spring the Ag Innovation Campus plans to offer contracts for conventional soybeans, which it hopes to begin crushing in 2022.

There appears to be a lot of interest from farmers who want to sell their soybeans to the Ag Innovation Campus, Skaug said.

“They believe in the project and want to do things to help northwest Minnesota,” he said.