Crookston City Council: Sale of 10 acres to AIC OK’ed

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    The Crookston City Council this week approved the sale of 10 acres of land toward the construction of the Ag Innovation Campus during the council’s Monday night meeting.

    This announcement clears the way for the location’s construction – due to begin this spring – in Crookston along Highway 75. The AIC had requested three multi-faceted variances up to 120 feet. The AIC will incubate other agriculture industry innovations under a mission of using Minnesota soybeans to create new products and jobs and generate myriad economic benefits for rural communities.

    “We are pleased to see Crookston leaders formally approve this land purchase as the AIC takes another big step toward our ultimate goal,” said AIC Board Chair Mike Skaug, who farms in Beltrami. “We’ve been working diligently on this project and have been encouraged with the progression as we continue striving toward revitalizing our region’s economy.”

    The AIC also aims to improve the economic outlook for producers across the country by allowing farmers to maximize the value of their crops; increase jobs spanning the skillset range from management to utility labor; and take advantage of current markets in biodiesel, soybean oil, soybean meal and glycerin.

    “Farmers drive agriculture with their innovation, and this project will serve that same purpose,” said Tom Slunecka, CEO of Ag Management Solutions, which oversees the AIC’s daily operations. “This is a big bang for our farmers and our organization. We’re thrilled with these positive developments and look forward to continuing work with the city of Crookston, elected officials, farmers and ag businesses.”

    In 2019, following an advocacy push from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, the Minnesota Legislature approved $5 million toward the AIC in the bipartisan omnibus agriculture finance bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz. The funding was released to the AIC in September 2020. In October, the AIC received crucial air permitting approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Later that month, the governor joined ag and regional officials for a groundbreaking ceremony.

    “There’s no place in the world that has something like this,” the governor said.

    The AIC in Crookston 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 to benefit all parties, from farm gate to consumers. A fully operating AIC will create up to 60 jobs and could crush more than 60,000 tons per year of soybean meal – serving about 30% of the regional market.

    “We’re super excited to see the progress the Ag Innovation Campus is making,” said Craig Hoiseth, an AIC ex officio board member and executive director of the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority. “We really appreciate all the work that’s been put into this, and think it’s going to be a great centerpiece for city and region.”

    Soybean production in northwest Minnesota has grown by more than 300% this century. Although the Ag Innovation Campus would improve the profitability of farmers throughout the state, the 11 northwest Minnesota counties that would see the most gain from the Campus produced more than 50 million bushels of soybeans in 2019.

    In addition to securing state funds and crucial work permits, the AIC is planning a late 2021 production goal. The group has purchased equipment, opened an office in Crookston and will be unveiling a website later in 2021.

    “Suffice it to say, we’re eager for spring,” Skaug said.