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Race is on to build ND’s first soybean crush plant

Bruce Hill of Worthington, Minn., is president of the board of Minnesota Soybean Processors LLC, a Brewster, Minn., company. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)1 / 2
File photo of soybeans. (Mikkel Pates/Agweek)2 / 2

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The race is on to build North Dakota’s first soybean crush plant. The only question will be who gets it done.

Gov. Doug Burgum was in meetings on Wednesday, Feb. 12, and unavailable for an interview, but his spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the North Dakota Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Office continue to work with parties involved in the proposed project.

“We are confident that we will see significant, tangible progress on a soybean crush facility in 2020,” the governor said in a statement.

Vying to be first are “Company X,” which has expressed interest in building at Spiritwood Energy Park and North Dakota Soybean Processors, which intends to find a new site after a falling out with the Spiritwood Energy Park Association.

North Dakota Soybean Processors, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Minnesota Soybean Processors, in 2017 announced plans to build a soybean plant at Spiritwood Energy Park, east of Jamestown. After several extensions as the soybean group sought funding, Spiritwood Energy Park moved to terminate their agreement in July 2019. The soybean group sued, but a judge ruled in September that Spiritwood Energy Park was within its rights to end the agreement. The lawsuit was settled last week to the satisfaction of both parties.

Connie Ova, CEO of Spiritwood Energy Park, told the Jamestown Sun that both sides paid their own expenses, and the settlement included no payments to either side from the other.

A company, referred to in documents related to the lawsuit as “Company X,” has an exclusivity agreement through July 10, 2020, to explore building a value-added agriculture processing plant at Spiritwood Energy Park. The company also has a non-disclosure agreement in place, though court documents filed by Minnesota Soybean Processors in September indicated Spiritwood Energy Park was negotiating with Archer Daniels Midland to construct a soybean crushing plant at Spiritwood.Archer Daniels Midland external communications director Jackie Anderson said the company does not "comment on rumors or speculation."

Ova told the Sun that the settlement of the lawsuit could move Company X forward on the potential project.

But North Dakota Soybean Processors hasn’t backed away from its intentions to build “the first farmer-owned soybean crush plant to the State of north Dakota,” though the possibility of building at Spiritwood is over.

“We are not done in our efforts,” Bruce Hill, a Minnesota farmer and the president of North Dakota Soybean Processors, said in a statement. “Our plant and site engineering is portable, and our air permit can be amended.”

Hill’s statement said site and plant engineering had been completed for a potential project at Spiritwood, and that construction contract bids had been solicited. He also said his group had “assembled commitments and term sheets with producers partnerships and debt financing totaling over $278 million to fully fund the project.”

However, attorneys for Spiritwood Energy Park in September explained that the soybean group missed several funding deadlines and had not begun negotiating with Great River Energy, which is located at Spiritwood Energy Park, about things like wastewater and steam. The attorneys also said representatives from Great River Energy and state government had raised concerns about North Dakota Soybean Processors’ business practices and the viability of their plan.

Jeramie Weller, general manager of Minnesota Soybean Processors, said no location has been identified for a plant, but with funding already in place, he believes his company would be able to move forward more quickly than it did in Spiritwood. He also said there are “some different people” in place on the project, including North Dakota Soybean Processors CEO Scott White, Hill and himself, to move things along.

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