A first-of-its-kind crush facility under construction in northwest Minnesota could be shot in the arm for research of northern-grown soybeans and help spread the essential amino acid message for Northern Soy Marketing.

In late October, ground was broken for the Ag Innovation Campus, a 67,000-square-foot complex that will serve as a hub for the next generation of value-added processing. That could include the research and study of new technologies and new soybean varieties. The Campus, which will be located in Crookston, Minn., is on an ambitious schedule to begin production in late 2021.

Ag Innovation Campus (AIC) officials say the facility will be a place where benchtop successes can be tested out at a large enough scale to take beyond the farm gate and to the consumer, said Northern Soy Marketing Executive Director Tom Slunecka.

“It’s the first of its kind in the world, a nonprofit facility that can do research,” said Slunecka, who is also CEO of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, one of the AIC’s three founding members, along with the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute. “The plant will serve as an incubator for agricultural innovation, with a goal to foster new and novel products.”

The Ag Innovation Campus will feature a specialty crushing facility that will allow public and private ag groups, such as commodity organizations, universities and seed developers, access to affordable processing that aims to lower costs while promoting growth of value-added products.

“It will be the first plant in the world to buy and sell based on amino-acid count,” Slunecka said. “It will be a testing and proving ground as to how it can be done.”

The aim is for the AIC to produce about 64,000 tons of soybean meal per year (240 tons per day), crushing approximately 28,000 bushels of soybeans per day. That adds up to 2.5 million bushels a year. The 15,600-square-foot crush facility will support three separate crushing lines. Each line can be completely cleaned to avoid cross contamination with other lines. The AIC will also set aside time for processing small quantities of “research” soybeans.

“It’s been tough to find a medium-scale research facility like this will be,” said NSM Chair Mike Langseth, who farms near Barney, N.D. “This is going to be a great resource.”

In 2018, the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council invested checkoff funds in a feasibility study to support a regional soybean crush and research facility in northwest Minnesota.

In 2019, the Minnesota Legislature approved $5 million in state funding toward the AIC in a bipartisan omnibus agriculture finance bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz. Funds were released to the AIC in September of 2020, and the official groundbreaking took place in a ceremony on the AIC’s 10-acre site on Oct. 28.

Walz, who attended the groundbreaking, called the AIC “bold,” adding, “There’s no place in the world that has something like this.”

Once fully in operation, the AIC is projected to support 60 jobs and feature state-of-the-art laboratory and classroom space for hands-on agriculture production and technology training, and it will be open for tours with a biosafe observatory from which visitors can see processing in real time.

“There will be a lot of synergy that will come out of this facility,” AIC Project Manager Jim Lambert said. “(The AIC) is really more of an agricultural business incubator than anything. … There are a lot of good things going on here.”

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