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Co-op strikes oil

Glenville, Minn. — Some 500 southern Minnesota farmers are planning to pump an array of high-value products from soybean oil — from nutritional supplements to diesel fuel.

The members of SoyMor soybean cooperative have begun purchasing crude soy oil and refining it into products for personal care and nutraceutical markets. They are toll processing now but hope to start their own production and triple volumes by next summer.

“Eventually we hope to have a complete crushing plant,” says SoyMor President Roger Peterson. “But we’re going about it in a different way by starting off with higher value things first.”

Prime the soy pump

SoyMor focuses on soy components such as sterols, glycerin and lecithin. “They’ve been able to identify a technology and process to separate, concentrate and purify several lecithin components to pharmaceutical grade,” says AURI scientist Max Norris. “When they look at a bushel of soybeans, 95 percent of what’s in there isn’t where their interest lies.”

By purchasing readily available crude oil and sharing resources and facilities with Agra Resources Cooperative’s Exol ethanol plant in Albert Lea, SoyMor will be able to build markets before expending funds on a crushing plant.

Peterson explains that businesses often “fail because you can’t market your product. We’re building our markets first.”

Let biodiesel flow

Refining soy oil components is not all SoyMor has in the works. The co-op is also making plans for a biodiesel plant.

Peterson says the co-op is watching what happens as the Minnesota Legislature once again debates whether a percentage of biodiesel will be required for diesel fuel sold in the state. Such a mandate would be a boon to soybean growers and processors.

Federal funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation also gave SoyMor a boost this fall. The co-op was one of 12 recipients of a biodiesel feedstock buy-down for renewable energy initiatives. SoyMor is using its funds to purchase soybeans for processing.

Once a plant is built, it will be relatively small, capable of processing seven million bushels per year. Nevertheless, Norris says this could be a shining example of value-added agriculture: “This could be a mega-resource for the state. They’ll be utilizing those bushels to the point where there’s nothing left of the raw commodity when they’re through with it.”