Project manager provides update, says he's confident state will allocate $5 million on July 1 as previously scheduled.

Despite the devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic turning a projected State of Minnesota budget surplus of around $1.5 billion into a projected $2.4 billion deficit, the project manager for the proposed Agriculture Innovation Center in Crookston said this week he’s “pretty confident” that $5 million allocated by the State last year will be freed up on schedule for the AIC on July 1 of this year.

Jim Lambert, who has roots and ties to the the area’s agricultural and fuel industries for more than three decades, said the $5 million will be invested in equipment to be housed in the facility as well as costs related to securing the necessary environmental and air-quality permits.

Lambert presented the latest AIC update to the CHEDA Board of Directors this week. He also showed them drawings of the latest layout of the facility, tucked on around 10 acres on the far northwest corner of the 100-plus acres of the “Colborn property” the City of Crookston, CHEDA and Crookston Jobs purchased around a decade ago.

The first phase of the project includes offices and a smaller-scale soybean crush facility with a maximum daily capacity of 240 tons, which will be the “anchor” of the facility. It will be a “mechanical crush” plant, Lambert said, which produces only dust and no other pollutants. Because of that, the permitting process is slightly easier, he said, but is still an arduous process.

As for when the rest of the facility is built, it will depend on funding, Lambert said. A future phase includes several bays filled by clients that would conduct research and various crushing trials and experiments using various technologies and commodities. For example, he explained, one bay is likely to be occupied by Plasma Blue, a company established by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council that implements new technologies in the production of biodiesel.

Cutting-edge research involving soybeans and other biofuels is nothing new in Minnesota and beyond, Lambert stressed. But what would be largely new the game is a facility like the AIC in Crookston.

“We’ve had all this great research for years, but the last step is rarely filled in; when do you take that next step?” he said. “The Ag Innovation Center will fill that perfectly. …We’ve had a lot of good innovation, but have never really had a place to watch it grow.”

Crookston is a “great location” and an “ideal spot” for the AIC for, among other reasons, its proximity to the University of Minnesota Crookston and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), Lambert noted. The AIC would partner with private industry as well, he added. “We’d utilize applied research, teaching and training to expand and grow business with the idea of planting them right on the property (next to the AIC),” Lambert continued. “You increase on-farm profits, you create jobs, and you boost the northwest Minnesota economy.”

Lambert said AIC leaders are monitoring the progress of the much larger Epitome Energy development that would take up around 60 acres of land adjacent to the AIC. “There’s a lot of Epitome talk, but this is separate; we are not associated with them,” he noted. “We will support them any way we can, but this is a separate project.”

The AIC still needs to secure the parcel from the City, Lambert said.

He added that as the process continues, he’s looking to establish an AIC office somewhere in downtown Crookston.