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Soybean office expanded in Mankato

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 01/29/2014 4:14 PM

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MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota Soybean celebrated its office expansion with an open house on the eve of Minnesota Ag Expo.

The $200,000 build-out added 1,700 square feet of space at the office located in Mankato. The remodel and expansion includes a new board room, office space and garage that can hold up to two cars and a pickup, said Paula Vollmer, Minnesota Soybean office coordinator.

"It's a nice facility; I'm really pleased," Vollmer said.

Construction began in July and was completed in November. It was paid for by checkoff dollars. Soybean producers pay a checkoff of a half of 1 percent of net market price per bushel of soybeans sold, said Tom Slunecka, executive director of Minnesota Soybean.

Soybean-based products were used in the project. The carpet has a soybean-based backing, the counter top in the board room has soybean-based products and the paint is soybean-based.

The new board room is the former garage. The board room is set up for wireless videoconferences with microphones that can be turned on and off at each spot around the table.

The videoconferencing capabilities are especially important because of the expanding soybean acres in northwestern Minnesota, said Craig Bangasser, secretary of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

During the past five to 10 years, farmers in northwestern Minnesota increasingly have added soybeans to their crop rotation, said Bangasser, who farms near Fulda. The council has supported this northward march by funding research into varieties that perform well in a northern climate.

For some of the directors in northern Minnesota, it's a seven to eight hour drive to Mankato.

The videoconferencing capabilities allow soybean leaders from across the state to participate in Minnesota Soybean decision making, Bangasser said. Instead of driving to Mankato, soybean farmers from northern Minnesota can connect from their home via their iPad or drive to Red Lake Falls, where Minnesota Soybean has satellite office space, and connect with other growers. It's the next best thing to being in the same room, Bangasser said. Up to six iPads can be connected at once.

Before, it was hard for the growers not in the room to hear what was being said, Slunecka said.

"This is really good now," said Bob Worth, an American Soybean Association national director from Lake Benton. "We wanted to do it right."

The videoconference ability also allows Minnesota Soybean to connect with leaders from the United Soybean Board, based in Washington, D.C. Slunecka said they like to have a person from the Washington office speak at board meetings. Now, instead of flying to Minnesota, they simply connect online. It saves time and money, he said.

Slunecka said the facility is available to others in the agricultural community to use. They already have hosted several agricultural groups, and they often host trade groups, he said. Mankato is an agricultural hub.

Soybean grower Bob Nelson said the additional office space is a plus, too.

"It's going to be more privacy for the people working," said Nelson, who farms by Westbrook.

This is the first time the building has been remodeled since it was built in 2007. Before moving to St. Andrews Court, the soybean office was located in a crowded downstairs space near the Best Western, Worth said.

"When we did this, we didn't think the farmers would go along with this," Worth said, but it passed unanimously. They were one of the first to build in the area, following DuPont Pioneer. Minnesota Pork moved in at same time, he said.

"I can see a big change," said Roger Dale, a past president from Hanley Falls.

"It will serve us much better," Worth said.