ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Construction on Ag Innovation Campus progressing

The exterior of the building that will house oilseeds crushing equipment is completed and installation of the grain handling equipment is underway. On the inside, workers are putting in electrical, heating and plumbing, said Tom Slunecka, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council CEO.

A long rectangular building on a plot of gravel.
The Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston, Minnesota, is expected to begin accepting soybeans in the summer of 2023.
Contributed / Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council
We are part of The Trust Project.

CROOKSTON, Minn. — The Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston is taking shape.

The exterior of the building that will house oilseeds crushing equipment is completed and installation of the grain handling equipment is underway. On the inside, workers are putting in electrical, heating and plumbing, said Tom Slunecka, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council CEO.

Ground was broken on the plant in October 2020 and dirt work began the next spring.

The goal is that the Ag Innovation Campus which is located on 10 acres in southwest Crookston, will crush about 3 million bushels of soybeans annually.

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, Slunecka said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Crookston was chosen as the site for the plant because it is in a region in which farmers grow a variety of crops, including wheat and sugarbeets, besides soybeans. That’s contrary to southern Minnesota where the rotation typically is soybeans and corn.

“The attitude and willingness to produce something different is a little greater in the northern region,” Slunecka said.

The Ag Innovation Campus will help introduce new technologies and crops to the market by helping them through the difficult “valley of death,” which is the stage between” benchtop” — successful university research — and commercialization, Slulnecka said.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of inventions that have made it through benchtop but that haven’t come to fruition, he said.

“That space in between can be very, very difficult for small companies, private investors to find a place to prove their technology at scale,” he said. The Ag Innovation Campus will aim to help its clients make their projects marketable.

Initially, the oilseeds crushing facility will process conventional soybeans from local farmers and has the capability to also do specialty processing of non-GMO and organic soybeans and of other crops from farmers in other parts of the United States and across the world, Slunecka said.

The plant’s production will be sold to a variety of new livestock and poultry operations in the area. Potential customers include hog, dairy and poultry production businesses and a pet food manufacturer in Perham, Minnesota, Slunecka said.

The cost of the plant, originally pegged at $5 million, has nearly quadrupled since it was announced and now is expected to cost slightly less than $20 million for the first phase.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Ag Innovation Campus 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.

The second and third phases are estimated at $8 million.

“The Ag Innovation Campus is not just a crush plant. In fact, the crush plant is a cornerstone of what we plan to accomplish there. The real goal is to bring new technologies, new types of oilseeds, to the market,” Slunecka said.

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.

Besides milling and processing, the Ag Innovation Campus plans to give opportunities for students attending two-year colleges to gain hands-on experience in working in the plant, which will jump-start their careers and benefit agriculture nationwide.

The plant will be an example of what agriculture can be in the future and the importance of investing in tomorrow, today, he said.

"That’s what this project is all about,” Slunecka 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.
What to read next
This week on AgweekTV, as our Thankful for Ag series continues, we'll visit a farm that's helping find a cure for Huntington's Disease with some very special sheep. We'll meet a family who's thankful for "the little things." Commodity groups come together to promote sustainability. And a North Dakota tree farm is growing Christmas cheer.
Meat cutting courses at Ridgewater College and Central Lakes College are helping train the next generation of meat processing professionals, but more work is needed to build a more resilient system.
The expansion northwest of Fargo, North Dakota, will allow Peterson Farms Seed to more quickly moving process bulk soybean seed for its dealers, the company said in a news release.
The Mill in Glen Ullin plans to make custom pelleted feed mixes for livestock, including cattle, bison and sheep. The Mill already is mixing loose feeds.