Polk County Board receives update on Ag Innovation Campus project

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

Ag Innovation Campus board members and management gave an update to the Polk County Board of Commissioners this week mentioning that the soybean crush facility's earth work is complete and their concrete building will be going up in May as part of Phase 1. Their hope is to start their test runs in August and be available to start crush during the 2022 harvest. Phases 2 and 3 of the AIC will bring an office structure and research bays, which they shared renderings of.

AIC Chair Mike Skaug told the board he is "very happy" with the project's progress and AIC board member Dr. Jimmy Gosse echoed Skaug's remarks saying he's excited the project is happening in Crookston. Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council CEO Tom Slunecka, who is also part of the management overseeing the AIC project, outlined the project's goals and said Crookston's new facility will be helping agriculture across Minnesota, across the nation and and even internationally.

"People have asked 'Why Crookston'," Slunecka shared. "Crookston is special. This region is well known for producing crops already... a lot of unique things have happened over the last decade."

"This project will produce the crush plant first to help pay for and sustain the facility and then the office will be fun with the lab, and AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute) will have an office there too," he added. "The lab will be crucial for all these companies and it's important to have one onsite to do the testing, plus the office will have an education space with 10 research bays. We just talked to Vertical Malt to see if they'll have a home here and utilize the labs, roads and space."

Slunecka told the board their intent is to become a 501c3 which would be favorable to investors.

"COVID made it very very hard for us and increased the cost of the project by 50%, but the board decided they're moving forward," Slunecka continued. "We get international trade groups coming through here every year and assessing what's going on in the region, but they can't get into a crush plant and can't see the quality of project in the U.S. though this facility (AIC) will allow them to see how their products are being made and go home with the information. This will drive the soybeans. Why shouldn't we add value to that crop? There will be things that can happen here that can't be done anywhere else."

When asked by District 5 County Board Member Mark Holy how much the facility will be producing, Slunecka said it would crush close to 240 tons of soybeans a day. Later Holy asked about the number of employees the facility would be hiring and was told 60 full-time jobs total with 25 employees to start off the small crush. The square footage of the entire campus will be around 67,000 square feet though Phase 1's crush facility will be closer to 16,000 square feet.

"It's a sizable facility and we're excited," said AIC Project Manager Jim Lambert. "There will be a lot of Ag in different bays, synergy for different research help, and companies will have ready access to experts that will help ensure the success of these companies."

The AIC reps told the commissioners they didn't have an official monetary "ask" from the county though Slunecka said the dollars that will be invested into the facility will grant themselves back over and over.

"This facility will generate cash that will be put back into the community," he explained. "This facility should be up and running for decades."

Slunecka detailed the grants and loans they've received and also mentioned an "interesting partnership" with Pheasants Forever who will be helping with landscaping and other grounds work.

"I see this as a big win for the whole community and the upper Midwest," Lambert added. "We were pretty fortunate to do the earthwork this fall so we can have construction going on this spring. We're happy with the site."

For more information about the Ag Innovation Campus, visit https://aginnovationcampus.org/

Ag Innovation Campus Project Manager Jim Lambert, seated in the front on the left, and Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council CEO Tom Slunecka, seated in the front on the right, speak to the Polk County Board of Commissioners about the project in Crookston.
A look at the Ag Innovation Campus project's planned "Crushwalk" facility rendering as shown to the Polk County Board of Commissioners