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Soy think tank filled with research ideas

Article cover photo
Iowa Soybean Association President Rolland Schnell shared his ideas for increasing soybean production and profitability at the Iowa Soybean Research Center Think Tank. (Photo: Matthew Wilde/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

What better place to take a deep-dive into issues facing soybean production and research than a think tank?

The Iowa Soybean Research Center hosted its second Think Tank Monday at the Iowa State University (ISU) Alumni Center. More than 30 farmers, ISU researchers and Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and center staff discussed ways to increase soybean production and profitability.

The center, established in 2014 and housed in Agronomy Hall on the Ames campus, is a partnership between ISA and ISU. The goal is to enhance public and private partnerships in providing a more disciplined approach to identify and fund priority-driven research and broadly beneficial research.

Participants discussed and answered a dozen questions — ranging from strengths and weaknesses concerning soybean production in Iowa and challenges, needs and obstacles production and research will face in the future — in small groups to identify production research options, opportunities and needs. ISA Senior Research Director Ed Anderson, Ph.D., said identifying research needs is occurring as planned, but more funding from public and private sectors is needed.

“ISU researchers and farmers remain well aligned on the key production opportunities and needs for soybean research,” Anderson said. “Compared to last year, we were able to take a deeper dive and be more specific on some of the yield and defensive trait opportunities.

“There’s a lot of great ideas for research, but we have to fund them,” he added. “To me the big take home message is that we currently have some valuable industry support but we need more companies to buy into the center and support it.”

The center’s current fiscal year research budget is $157,000. The primary contributors are ISA, ISU and industry partner’s Bayer CropScience, Monsanto and Cornelius Seed.

Anderson, who helped form the center, is hopeful great research ideas generated during this and last year’s Think Tank will attract new partners and funding.

“This is where our money will come from,” he said. “It’s great to talk about more federal and state funding, but the reality is that’s not going to happen. We’ll renew our efforts to get industry support.”

Research ideas generated during the Think Tank:

  • Yield improvement through agronomics and breeding.
  • Yield protection — double down on efforts to build soybean packages that have high yield potential with good defensive traits.
  • Soybean adaptability to climate and environment changes.
  • Drive yield potential through a systems/holistic approach.
  • Maintain competitiveness as farmers adopt more conservation practices.

Even though center officials hoped for more industry support by now, they say the organization is fulfilling its mission.

Two research ideas at last year’s Think Tank — take a genetic approach to improve soybean root development to improve soybean yields and understand the role of soil microbes in soybean root functioning —became ISU soybean research projects partially funded by the center. Danny Singh, Ph.D., ISU soybean breeder, and ISU professor Gwyn Beattie, a microbiologist, co-lead that research in a coordinated effort.

Singh is looking for unused genes and traits that lead to higher productivity (yield) and reduce crop production risks from water, nutrient or disease/pest stresses.

It’s valuable to bring all stakeholders with their intellectual capabilities together to define problems and think of solutions, according to Singh, who participated in last year’s Think Tank.

“It’s very impactful when people work together for the common good,” Singh said.

While funding will dictate if the Think Tank becomes an annual event, plans are in the works to enhance collaboration between researchers and farmers.

Center Director Greg Tylka, Ph.D., an ISU professor of plant pathology and microbiology specializing in soybean cyst nematode research, announced the center will arrange visits to farms this summer and during harvest for researchers and faculty.

Singh thinks it’s a great idea. He would like farmers to spend time in the lab as well.

According to Singh, this will allow producers and scientists to get a better feel for the work each performs and what’s needed for mutual benefit.

“It was made very clear that farming is a business and profitability is very important,” Singh said. “I’m sure (an exchange) will help Iowa farmers and soybean production.”

So does Chuck White, an ISA board member from Spencer.

He said the Think Tank garnered great discussions on what farmers want soybean researchers to concentrate on and insure they’re heading in the right direction. White is convinced that’s the case.

Hosting farm visits will only solidify that, he said.

“The researchers want to do the work the farmers need. I look specifically at getting pest and disease management under control to improve yields and lower costs,” White said. “We can show them specific examples.”

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For media inquiries, please contact Katie Johnson, ISA Public Relations Manager at kjohnson@iasoybeans.com or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at aputze@iasoybeans.com

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