(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)
Soybean checkoff impacts research that increases profitability
February 7, 2022 | Ed Anderson, PhD
The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), like farmers, strives to improve profitable and sustainable production of the most reliable, highest yielding and highest-quality soybeans. ISA’s research team works with and on behalf of farmers to understand, execute and communicate research. This benefits soybean farmers, the soybean industry and Iowans through the production of abundant, safe and environmentally friendly feed, fuel, fiber and food.
The ISA board of directors invests soybean checkoff dollars in four primary ways:
1 // The board establishes contract agreements each year for basic (usually longer-term) and applied (usually shorter-term) research with Iowa Institutions and entities, mainly Iowa State University (ISU), for improving and protecting soybean yields and quality.
2 // The ISA board understands many challenges and opportunities for soybean production do not start or stop at our borders. Since 1992, ISA has cooperated with other Midwest state soybean boards through the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) to invest in multi-state and multi-disciplinary research, teaching and extension. This brings the best and brightest researchers together on important topics. Because 87% of all the soybeans grown in the U.S. are produced in the 13 NCSRP member states, the influence and impact of NCSRP research investments and results have broad benefits.
3 // Since 2014, the ISA board has invested soybean checkoff dollars in the Iowa Soybean Research Center on ISU’s campus. The center focuses on attracting private sector memberships and financial investments for interdisciplinary research, which will bring value to farmers and to the soybean companies that serve them. Currently, the center has 14 member companies funding soybean research at ISU, which extends the checkoff investment by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
4 // For almost 25 years, the ISA board has invested soybean checkoff dollars in our own internal research technical assistance and implementation programs dedicated to working with farmers on their farms for in-field and edge-of-field on-farm production research and conservation infrastructure improvements. This provides farmers with real science and real data to improve their cropping systems with innovative agronomics, conservation, predictive models and decision tools.
Our internal research programs were formerly called the On-Farm Network for Agronomic On-Farm Research and Environmental Programs and Services for conservation work. Starting in 2020, our expertise was fully integrated as the Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI).
RCFI works in close partnership with our farmer participants to investigate products, practices and data-driven decision tools. The goal is to improve crop production, optimize input expenditures and uses, and improve plant growth, development and productivity. We also strive to enhance soil conservation and health, nutrient management and water quality.
RCFI staff works hard to attract competitive grants, foundation investments and industry partnerships to extend the impact and effectiveness of the soybean checkoff. The RCFI team is composed of more than 20 staff with expertise in agronomy, biotechnology, environmental sciences, statistics and analytics.
Our sole focus is working with farmers on practical applied on-farm research, watershed planning and the sharing of technical assistance. This work enables the evaluation and implementation of novel cropping system products and practices that are complementary to and codependent with conservation practices and infrastructure to ensure this generation of farmers and future generations will be profitable, productive and sustainable.
RCFI on-farm research programs and projects take into account Iowa’s regional differences in soils, weather, existing cropping practices and livestock production. We tailor research engagement and implementation opportunities to best align with the realities and priorities of different farmers across our state. Some examples of on-farm research projects include fertility and optimized use of manure and synthetic fertilizers; fungicides, herbicides and insecticides; biologicals; tillage, row spacings, and early vs. late planting; and evaluating cover crop impacts on soil health, nutrient management, pesticide use, weed management, diseases and insects. More examples include edge-of-field infrastructure like oxbows, bioreactors, grassed waterways, saturated buffers and drainage water control and recycling; and the use of precision ag, digital ag, aerial imagery, predictive models and decision tools.
All RCFI projects and programs are designed to enhance and optimize farm operations with a big picture view that spans agronomics, conservation and the use of data.