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Grand Forks chosen as new location for Epitome Energy soybean crushing plant

The plant will be able to process up to 42 million bushels of soybeans per year into crude degummed soybean oil, meal and hulls. CEO Dennis Egan says soybean oil will likely go into the renewable diesel industry, while the meal will go into the livestock industry.

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Epitome Energy CEO Dennis Egan speaks during a Grand Forks City Council meeting on Dec. 5. (Screenshot from meeting)
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GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks has been chosen as the new site of a $400 million soybean crushing plant expected to create a local soybean market for regional producers.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Epitome Energy CEO and founder Dennis Egan publicly announced the company’s plans to pursue a soybean processing facility in Grand Forks. The announcement came during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Grand Forks City Council.

The plant will process up to 42 million bushels of soybeans per year into crude degummed soybean oil, meal and hulls. Egan says soybean oil will likely go into the renewable diesel industry, while the meal will go into the livestock industry.

“Local farmers are excited about the opportunity to bring their beans so that we can make soybean meal and oil to help other agribusinesses in the region and in the country,” Egan said.

Traditionally, he said, soybean farmers in the Red River Valley have shipped soybeans to the West Coast to be exported overseas. For many in the region, the nearest processing facility is more than 100 miles away. Epitome Energy estimates that its soy crushing facility will strengthen farmers’ basis for soybeans by 20 to 25 cents per bushel.

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Previously, Epitome Energy had selected a site in Crookston, Minnesota, for its crushing facility. Now, the plant will be built in Grand Forks instead of Crookston. The change in plans came after the permitting process for an air permit in Minnesota stretched on for 16 months, said Egan, who is the former mayor of Red Wing, Minnesota.

“With our investor pool, it became clear that without a path forward, we needed to look at an alternative site, and we think we have found that in Grand Forks,” he said.

When fully operational, the Epitome facility will create 50 to 60 new permanent jobs at the plant, with a payroll — including wages and benefits — of approximately $5 million. Egan says a University of Minnesota economic study also indicated it could support an additional 800 jobs in industries like construction.

Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, says the interest of Epitome Energy in Grand Forks demonstrates how well the city supports agribusiness.

“It really builds on the agribusiness that’s been developed over half a century to a century,” said Lund. “With this project and the Fufeng project with corn, we’ll be adding value to six different crops across the region, which is a tremendous value to regional agricultural producers.”

Already, companies in Grand Forks — including J.R. Simplot, American Crystal Sugar, the North Dakota Mill and Philadelphia Macaroni Company — offer processing for regional crops like potatoes, sugar beets and wheat. In addition, a proposed wet corn mill, to be operated by Fufeng USA, would add a local corn-processing facility.

At present, the Fufeng project is under review by the federal Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States . The project has been the focus of public scrutiny and controversy since it was first announced a year ago.

Mayor Brandon Bochenski noted Epitome's potential impact on the region.

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“This is a tremendous investment in our local economy, further cementing our agribusiness dominance as Grand Forks continues to punch above our weight class,” Bochenski said in the Epitome Energy announcement. “Epitome’s soybean crush facility is an important piece of the puzzle for our soybean farmers, who will need to reach new markets in the future.”

Gov. Doug Burgum also is optimistic, saying Epitome's "significant investment in our state will add value for soybean growers, support growth in renewable fuels and the livestock industry, and strengthen our overall economy.”

“Remarkably, with this announcement, in less than two years North Dakota has gone from having zero soybean processing to having three planned soybean crushing plants with the capacity to process roughly 75% of our state’s annual soybean production," Burgum said. "These are game-changers that enhance North Dakota’s leadership in feeding and fueling the world.”

Work on two other soybean crushing plants in North Dakota has already begun. The Green Bison Soy Processing facility in Spiritwood, about 10 miles east of Jamestown, broke ground in June 2022. In August, the North Dakota Soybean Processors broke ground on a crush plant near Casselton.

During Monday's council meeting, Egan said that even with those relatively nearby developments, he still expects "very little overlap in terms of availability of soybeans." The company predicts that climate change likely will benefit growing conditions in the region in future years.

A slide he showed during the council meeting noted that "global demand is rising for soybeans," especially for renewable diesel fuel, biodiesel fuel and cooking/foodstuffs.

Epitome Energy has executed a letter of intent for a greenfield site just north of Grand Forks that features access to rail, freeway and other necessary utilities. The site is near the Grand Forks Landfill on land currently owned by Northern Plains Rail. The project will be situated on the south end of the site to minimize impact to nearby property owners, Egan said.

It's been an eventful past 12 months in agribusiness news in Grand Forks. In 2021 came the announcement that Chinese-owned Fufeng Group had chosen Grand Forks as the site for a wet corn milling facility. Detractors of the project say they are concerned about its ties to China and that it may be a security risk for nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base.

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With Epitome, Egan says he has visited with township supervisors and regional agricultural groups. He said they have responded positively to the idea of the company coming to Grand Forks. He believes the biggest difference between Epitome Energy and Fufeng is the funding mechanism.

“We’re not Chinese owned and/or have Chinese investment in the project,” he said. “We view this as a homegrown project which is here to benefit Minnesota and North Dakota farmers.”

At present, Epitome Energy is based in Red Wing, Minnesota, but the company is in the process of registering in North Dakota.

Locally, water use has also been a cause of concern with the Fufeng plant, which is expected to use 6.6 million gallons of water per day. Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator, says Epitome’s plant is expected to use around 400,000 gallons of water per day, with some of that total coming from reused wastewater.

But, says Feland, the plants are similar in some ways — both are large agribusiness facilities that will provide new local processing opportunities for crops in the region.

The Epitome project, once operational, will process an estimated 120,000 bushels — or approximately 100 truckloads — of soybeans per day.

“It’s kind of exciting, with Fufeng with corn and this project with soybeans, that we’re going to have processing, potentially, for both of those crops that we don’t have currently,” he said.

So far, the amount of public money needed for the Epitome plant is unknown, but Egan and Feland say a development agreement between Epitome Energy and the city will outline the responsibilities of each party.

Fagen Inc., based in Granite Falls, Minnesota, is leading the engineering, procurement and construction for the project. Egan says Epitome Energy also plans to work with local contractors on the plant. The project is expected to break ground in the summer 2023, with operations beginning in fall 2025.

During the council meeting, Egan said the next steps include moving toward a developer's agreement, collaborating with the state of North Dakota, working with the EDA on natural gas delivery and annexation of property.

"We want to publicly say that we would like to be able to join Grand Forks' business community and be part of it," Egan said. "Again, we'd be here asking for that development agreement and working with city staff and EDA folks to put together a project that is right for this community."

Council member Bret Weber said he views it as "fantastic news for our community."

Related Topics: AGRIBUSINESSSOYBEANS
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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