Law to boost animal agriculture in North Dakota could create local market for soybean meal, Burgum says

The Epitome plant will produce soybean oil to be used for renewable fuel or in food, but will also produce soybean meal, used primarily for feeding livestock.

File photo of soybeans. (Mikkel Pates/Agweek)

GRAND FORKS – A new law that loosens restrictions on corporate farming in North Dakota is good news for agriculture manufacturing ventures like the planned Epitome Energy soybean crush plant in Grand Forks, says North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

The law, which went into effect immediately after it was signed on Friday, April 28, aims to boost animal agriculture in North Dakota, by allowing livestock operations to attract outside investments. The Epitome plant will produce soybean oil that can be used for renewable fuel or in food, but will also produce soybean meal, used primarily for feeding livestock.

“We’ve got the carve out and then we have an opportunity for economic investment,” Burgum said in a meeting with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board on Wednesday, May 10.

Previously, livestock operations like dairies and feedlots in North Dakota were limited to family ownership, making it hard to start new operations.

“Not all second cousins are going to say 'I’ve got an extra 40 or 50 million (dollars) lying around,'” Burgum said. “We need real capital coming in to start some of these things.


Now, farmers can take advantage of outside investment, with some limitations — farmers must make up the majority of partners in a corporate structure, and no corporation can own more than 160 acres of farmland.

North Dakota was the eighth largest soybean producer in the United States in total bushels in 2022, producing 4.28 billion bushels, according to the North Dakota Soybean Council. But despite the number of soybeans grown in the state, only 7% of soybeans remain in the state.

Three soybean crush plants are in development in the state now. Construction has started on the Green Bison Soy Processing facility near Spiritwood and the North Dakota Soybean Processors crush plant near Casselton. The Green Bison Soy Processing facility is expected to open by harvest in 2023, while the North Dakota Soybean Processors plant is expected to be running by 2024. Epitome Energy is expected to break ground in Grand Forks in 2023.

“We didn’t have any before because if you were running the numbers on putting $350 million into a soybean plant, you needed two things — you needed soybeans and then you needed someone to buy the meal that came off the back end because the meal was generally eaten by animals,” Burgum said.

The three plants came to the state after a shift in soybean processing, Burgum said.

“They showed up because the market shifted so much around renewable fuels that suddenly you could build a soybean plant in North Dakota,” Burgum said.

Soybean oil can be used to make biodiesel, which can be blended with traditional petroleum diesel. The market shift to renewable fuels made the numbers work for having a soybean plant in North Dakota, Burgum said, even if soybean meal still has to be transported to states with more livestock. Now, the new law could result in more local consumers of the soybean meal at the three plants.

“Now they’re here, so there’s a huge opportunity,” Burgum said.


The $400 million Epitome Energy plant was announced in December. Once completed, it will have the capacity to process up to 42 million bushels of soybeans per year into crude degummed oil, meal and hulls. Oil produced at the plant will likely go into the renewable diesel industry, CEO Dennis Egan told the Herald in December.

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Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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