Ag Innovation Campus crosses bridge into production

Community members, local and regional dignitaries, area farmers and media earned their first look at the new cutting-edge Ag Innovation Campus (AIC) in Crookston. The AIC hosted its grand opening ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 14, with an open house, tours and remarks from AIC officials and those involved in the creation of the facility.

For the leaders who helped make the AIC a reality, the grand opening was a triumphant moment and signaled huge opportunities for the region’s ag economy.

“What makes this facility so amazing is the vision and the mission that it is going to hold for agriculture,” Acting AIC CEO Tom Slunecka said in his opening remarks. “Not only will the AIC empower the value of agriculture in the region and add value with new employees to the city of Crookston, but this facility is going to change agriculture as a whole.”

After nearly five years of advocating, planning and construction, the Ag Innovation Campus facility itself is complete, but is awaiting a few final components before launching formal operations in the coming weeks.

“Getting to this point was no easy task. We had to navigate COVID-19. We dealt with supply chain shortages, workforce shortages and inflation,” said AIC Board Chair and Beltrami, Minn., farmer Mike Skaug. “That makes this moment all the more rewarding. It’s also rewarding to know that farmer-led advocacy was crucial in putting the Ag Innovation Campus in a position to succeed.”

The grand opening ceremony took place in the loading bay of the Ag Innovation Campus, which was packed with about 200 attendees from around the region who were excited to learn more about this one-of-a-kind facility, perhaps none more so than Crookston Mayor Dale Stainbrook.

“The city of Crookston is honored to be the home of AIC, its staff and all of the unique, forward-thinking agricultural products we expect to come from this facility,” said Mayor Stainbrook.

‘A tremendous opportunity’

In the spirit of the AIC’s bipartisan support, the event also brought in several legislative and agency dignitaries. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, State Sen. Mark Johnson, Rep. Deb Kiel and Ben Lien from Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office all shared remarks during the grand opening.

“The AIC is going to give Minnesota a tremendous opportunity and edge over our competitors, but it also shows the investment and foresight that the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) had when envisioning this facility,” Commissioner Petersen said.

MSR&PC Chair Tom Frisch, MSGA President Bob Worth, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute Executive Director Shannon Schlecht, Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janelle Wald and National FFA Central Region Vice President Karstyn Cantrell also shared the stage during the grand opening.

“Thanks to checkoff support from both the Council and United Soybean Board, the AIC is bringing both public and private industry together to bring ideas and technologies from benchtop all the way to commercialization,” said Frisch, who farms in Dumont and also serves as AIC treasurer. “The AIC will also allow for teaching of the next generation of crush plant managers and operation personnel, and we’re confident that the AIC can continue to keep our industry at the forefront of new and emerging technologies and value-added uses.”

Once running, this not-for-profit facility will produce an estimated 240 tons of soybean meal daily, equaling a grand total of 62,400 tons of soybean meal per year. With three independently operated mechanic crush systems, the AIC will be able to crush organic, non-GMO and GMO soybeans.

The crush plant is only the first phase in this three-phase project. Phase two will feature an office complex and research labs. Phase three consists of rentable discovery bays that will be available for short to midterm use. Companies can then use the space to prove their designs at full production scale. The “Crushwalk” will also allow visitors to view the processing facility in a safe and bio secure manner.