GRAND FORKS – Epitome Energy has decided not to build in Minnesota, but farmers in the state will still benefit from their soybean crushing facility if it is built across the border in Grand Forks, some Minnesota agricultural executives say.
Epitome Energy, an agribusiness company based in Red Wing, Minnesota, announced Monday, December 5, that it plans to build a $400 million soybean processing facility in Grand Forks. The facility was originally planned for Crookston, Minnesota, but uncertainty in Minnesota’s permitting process prompted the company to explore other options, CEO Dennis Egan said.
When the plant is operational, it is expected to crush 42 million bushels of soybeans per year. Epitome Energy estimates its facility could increase the soy base for local farmers by 20 to 25 cents a bushel.
“Ultimately, I hope it gets built because it will still provide a market for area farmers to crush their soybeans,” said Thom Petersen, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “We’re going to miss out on the tax benefits and benefits of that.”
Petersen said the MDA invested time and money to move the facility to northwest Minnesota because it offered an opportunity for soybean farmers in the area. The MDA provided the company with a $1 million grant and a $35,000 planning grant. The company only used a fraction of each.
At Crookston, the Epitome facility is planned on the same site as the Ag Innovation campus, which will also feature a small soybean milling facility. The state has invested more than $5 million in this campus, said Petersen, who is nearing completion.
“As the Department of Agriculture, we’ve gone out of our way to provide different things to try and build this in Minnesota,” Petersen said.
While the main product produced at the plant is expected to be soybean oil used in the biofuel or food industry, the plant will also produce soybean meal as a by-product.
For ranchers, the soybean meal produced at the Epitome facility could mean more meal is readily available in the area, said John Burkel, R-Badger, representative of Minnesota District 1A. Burkel, a fourth-generation turkey farmer, said most soybean meal used to feed livestock is shipped across the state from processing plants in southern Minnesota towns like Dawson and Mankato.
“Having a soybean meal processing plant on-site could really be beneficial for the livestock industry in our region, but the frustrating thing is that we have a situation where a plant that would have been built in Crookston is now in Grand Forks is built, and the jobs that come with it will stay there,” he said.
Aside from the jobs and tax base the plant would have added to Crookston and Polk County, the plant, which will be moved 30 miles west, will bring other economic activities, Burkel said.
“The truck driver unloading the soybeans isn’t going to stop at the Crookston rest stop to refuel, he’s going to stop at Grand Forks,” Burkel said.
In the 2023 legislature, Burkel will serve on the Agriculture, Finance and Policy Committee and the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee. He says he would like to see regulatory pressures put on regulatory agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and DNR to speed up permitting processes and reduce what he sees as “regulatory overreach” by government agencies.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Epitome Energy’s air permit should be granted in February 2023, allowing construction of the facility to begin in the spring. Egan told the Herald he was unaware of this timeline.
Petersen says Minnesota’s permitting process has room for improvement, but other conditions can affect how long it takes to issue a permit.
“This is a new plant, a new company,” said Petersen. “It’s not like Cargill coming to Crookston and building a plant — it’s a new startup company that’s building a very big plant with a lot of different intricacies.”
In North Dakota, Egan hopes to have a permit to fly by August 2023.