In North Dakota, oil and agriculture are the sun. Orbiting around them is the state’s economic fate.
New developments in value-added efforts are broadening the market, though, clearing a prudent path for the state to follow.
Consider the new soybean crushing plant planned for Spiritwood, near Jamestown in central North Dakota. The $350 million facility will produce soybean meal and vegetable oil for food, feed and fuel, including renewable — also known as “green” — diesel. Early projections look for the plant to employ about 70 and process approximately 150,000 bushels of soybeans per day.
There are plenty of beans in the region to keep it busy. In 2019, North Dakota produced more than 170 million bushels of soybeans, the fourth most of any state in the nation in 2019.
When the plant was announced in early May, Gov. Doug Burgum called it a “gamechanger for North Dakota farmers.”
But it’s not just that farmers will have a nearby and ready market for their beans. The greater benefit is the opportunity for regenerated value for those beans — thus the true meaning of “value-added” agriculture. Burgum calls it a “synergy between ag and energy.”
“When (Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford) and I ran four years ago, we said ‘hey, we have food and fuel. We have raw materials and we ship them out of state.’ We were like a colony, extracting raw materials,” Burgum told the Grand Forks Herald late last month. “But we could do value-added (approaches) in both energy and ag. This is one of the biggest value-added investments ever made in the state and it has synergies.”
Among those synergies: The soybean plant will be partly powered by steam from the nearby Great River Energy plant. The soybean plant, in addition to producing various foodstuffs, will sell oil to the Marathon refinery in Dickinson. Marathon will produce green diesel for markets in California. And, the governor says, “the opportunities for synergy between ag and energy continue to grow.”
“This is one of those examples where we can have ag and energy and be moving in a sustainable way, all simultaneously,” Burgum said. “And that’s part of the reason I am so pumped about the future of North Dakota. That innovation is going to play such a key role.”
Burgum’s not the only one excited by the possibilities.
The new soybean facility “represents a collection of even larger benefits than anticipated,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., wrote in an op-ed submitted to the state’s newspapers. “We continue to expand the shared nexus between agriculture and energy and, accordingly, North Dakota continues to lead the way in developing the industries of the future.”
“Value-added ag” is a term that gained popularity a couple of decades ago as farmers — and politicians, economists and others — realized the impact that comes when products and markets are reconsidered and reconfigured to wring the most possible profit from a commodity. The goal is to develop the highest return on any agricultural investment, strengthening not only the producer and ag sector, but also the economies that rely upon it.
But it isn’t limited to ag products. It needs to be top of mind across all sectors.
The Spiritwood plant certainly will provide a boost for the state’s agriculture industry, but its economic boundaries will overlap into the energy sector.
Burgum and Hoeven are obviously excited by the potential, and the rest of the state should be too.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.