Ag Innovation Campus moving ‘full steam ahead’

Nearly one year after receiving funding from the Minnesota Legislature, the Ag (née Soy) Innovation Campus (AIC) in Crookston is making significant progress and remains on track to reach a milestone in July.

In 2019, spurred by a passionate advocacy push from MSGA farmer leaders, the Minnesota Legislature approved $5 million toward the Ag Innovation Campus in the omnibus agriculture finance bill. The funding will go into effect in the second half of the biennium budget in July 2020.

“We are very encouraged by the developments we’ve seen in the past several months,” says Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) Vice President Mike Skaug, who chairs the AIC Board of Directors. “We’re full steam ahead.”

In September 2019, the permit process began in Crookston. The project has continued building momentum. With support from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC), Jim Lambert has been tabbed to serve as AIC project manager.

“This a very exciting initiative that will have a positive impact on – and help drive – the development of value-added agricultural products,” Lambert says. “This project will create a place to teach, innovate, develop and scale new products, better processes and novel technologies.”

MSR&PC will continue hiring a team of contractors to further assist with construction and development.

“We’re determined to see the Ag Innovation Campus to completion, and we’re staffing up to do exactly that,” says Tom Slunecka, CEO of Ag Management Solutions, the organization managing the Ag Innovation Campus and both MSR&PC and MSGA.

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MSGA Vice President Mike Skaug (right) is chair of the Ag Innovation Campus Board. Rep. Deb Kiel (left) has supported the project since its inception.

The non-profit AIC board of directors includes MSGA and the MSR&PC directors, along with representatives from the City of Crookston, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and Plasma Blue.

“We have a broad coalition of voices on the board,” Skaug says. “Everyone’s moving in the same direction: forward.”

The AIC will host a specialty crushing facility, allowing universities, commodity groups and private seed developers access to affordable processing that aims to lower costs while promoting growth of value-added products. Once established, the Campus will be home to private industries to create products from the co-products of the four facilities, benefitting all parties from farm gate to consumers.

“This Campus will be the first of its kind in the nation,” Slunecka says. “Farmers drive agriculture with their innovation, and this project will serve that same purpose.”

The AIC has received broad bipartisan support. GOP senators Torrey Westrom, Bill Weber and Mark Johnson; Rep. Deb Kiel (R-Crookston); Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen; and Gov. Tim Walz worked together to ensure the project received state funding. The City of Crookston has also embraced the endeavor with gusto and has begun plans for infrastructure upgrades.

“Farmers are grateful to see legislators, elected officials, public agencies and city leaders come together to support Minnesota’s agriculture economy,” says Skaug, a Beltrami farmer. “Farming fuels economies throughout Minnesota, and the Ag Innovation Campus is a game-changer for value-added agriculture.”

Agriculture contributes roughly 25 percent to Minnesota’s GDP, and northwest Minnesota is home to one of the country’s largest soybean-rich areas. In 2019, the 11 northwest Minnesota counties near Crookston produced more than 50 million bushels of soybeans.

“It’s fantastic to see this project become a reality for the Crookston area and farmers in northwestern Minnesota,” Commissioner Petersen says. “In the current farm economy, it’s more important than ever to find new ways for farmers to process and market their commodities. The Ag Innovation Campus is a great example of how we can support those efforts.”

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