MDA Commissioner visits Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen visited the Ag Innovation Campus office in Crookston Tuesday plus had a tour of their building site on the south end of town and attended the Charles H. Casey Equine Arena dedication at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

Petersen met with AIC project manager Jim Lambert, AIC board chair Mike Skaug, AIC board member and local farmer Trevore Brekken, AIC Secretary and Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) microbiologist Jimmy Gosse, Crookston City Administrator Amy Finch and Crookston Mayor Dale Stainbrook, and they discussed AIC's site progress, costs, and potential partnerships. Other topics included area drought conditions, Crookston's current job market and Epitome Energy.

Lambert told Petersen the AIC is getting ready to lay water pipes for the building that will soon house the soybean crush facility that was planned to also include classrooms, oil refining and additional space for private industries. Completion of the 10-acre AIC is currently scheduled for the summer of 2022 and the new facility should create at least 25 new jobs plus opportunities for local farmers, Lambert added.

"Costs have gone up so it (the facility) changed direction, but the idea is still the same," Lambert explained. "We want to make sure we have enough room for the small crush and teaching, and when we get more funding we will expand."

He told the group that AIC did get a loan from AgCountry which reportedly was the first nonprofit AgCountry has given a loan to. Lambert reiterated that while the project is a "scaled down version" the vision is the same and they've been able to located some gently used equipment for $2.5 million that they had refurbished and transported so they're ready for operation once the building is complete.

Skaug added that the $2.5 million for the equipment was about half of what it would have been brand new and while it took their whole grant money they're glad they have other options to fall back on.

"I appreciate the Ag Innovation Campus finding the means to fast forward the project," said Petersen. "I see the possibilities and it's exciting for value added in general."

Petersen also mentioned that he missed last fall's AIC groundbreaking event due to his children contracting COVID-19 through their football team.

Ag Innovation Campus (AIC) board chair Mike Skaug, AIC Secretary Jimmy Gosse, AIC board member Trevore Brekken, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Thom Petersen, Crookston City Administrator Amy Finch, Crookston Mayor Dale Stainbrook, and AIC project manager Jim Lambert.
Ag Innovation Campus project manager Jim Lambert, left, talks with Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen at the AIC office downtown Crookston