Soybeans in conical flask

Soybean industry rallies around new strategic approach to research

February 7, 2022 | Aaron Putze, APR

Success can’t be left to chance.

For U.S. soybean farmers to thrive, new, innovative and broad-scoped research must be coordinated with multiple partners throughout the value chain. It must also align with farmer priorities and solutions based on the needs of end users.

Easier said than done.

Undeterred, soybean leaders gathered for a first-of-its-kind Soybean Research Forum and Think Tank in Indianapolis last fall. The goal: to improve the industry’s approach to collaborative research to accelerate short- and long-term profits, productivity and sustainability of U.S. soybean farmers. The topics of focus included yield, sustainable and regenerative ag, and new uses and markets.

Attendees included representatives from 19 state soybean organizations (QSSBs), two regional checkoff organizations, the United Soybean Board (USB), 17 state land grant universities, 12 large and small companies, and one federal agency.

“If soybean production and uses are going to keep pace with market needs and farmer expectations, then you have to be intentional about identifying and pursuing the basic and applied research opportunities that feed the pipeline,” says Ed Anderson, Ph.D., Iowa Soybean Association’s sr. director of research and executive director of the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP). “That was the vision and the result of our time together in Indianapolis.”

Participants evaluated the status of soybean farming and soybean uses today and tomorrow through the lens of research. Most importantly, they identified new ways of bringing the right people, expertise and technologies together for making opportunities a reality moving forward.

“The future is bright when we’re focused and working together,” says Anderson, the forum’s visionary.

Farmer input

A survey of soybean farmers from around the country was conducted prior to the forum to identify priority research topics. Making the list were yield improvement, soybean quality, regenerative ag, climate resiliency in genetics and production, and driving new uses and markets for soybeans.

With priority topics in hand, Anderson and the multistate forum planning team identified speakers and an effective meeting format. Given the diverse audience of soybean industry stakeholders, panel discussions, and small and large group dialogues were essentials.

“The most difficult part of any project is getting started,” says Greg Luce, director of research for the Missouri Soybean Association. “A forum was needed to propel us to action by identifying issues, who will lead action on those issues and rally an industry-wide effort to do better on research that matters most to farmers.”

Immediately following the forum, QSSB staff further reviewed input captured from the dialogues. Additional discussions with research stakeholders were held during a meeting of state and national soybean staff in October in Nashville.

The extensive compilation of ideas, topics and strategies were organized into a white paper identifying goals, objectives and action items for moving the visionary and strategic work to meaningful execution for the future.

Void of bureaucracy

From a research perspective, the primary outcome of the work, both in Indianapolis and Nashville, was a shared understanding that this important work will only be accomplished through dedicated and directed staff and programming focus, Anderson says.

“And, doing the work with minimal overhead and administrative layers, with no added bureaucracy or politics,” he adds.

Four goals emerged from the months-long effort to guide research collaborations powered by the soybean checkoff.

Topping the list: enabling Iowa and U.S. soybean farmers to be the most profitable, productive and sustainable suppliers for current and emerging markets. To accomplish this goal, Anderson says the industry will embark on more effective networking within the U.S. soybean family and with public institutions, federal/state agencies and departments, and private industry.

The creation and launch this year of the U.S. Soybean Research Collaborative (USSRC) will serve as the catalyst. Soybean leaders from multiple states are currently reviewing and acting on a proposed program, a direct outcome of the Soybean Research Forum and Think Tank.

“Greater coordination and transparency on soybean research are essential,” says Suzanne Shirbroun, an ISA director and sixth-generation farmer from Farmersburg.

Breaking down the old barriers between production research and new uses research, states and the national programs are key opportunities raised by forum attendees, she adds.

Maximizing checkoff

“Rallying around goals developed from the forum will enable the industry to complement and leverage work happening across all soybean checkoff organizations,” says Anderson. “This will enhance the pace and success of research and maximize every soybean checkoff dollar invested.”

Anderson says the soybean industry is energized by the opportunities that greater collaboration will bring through the work of the USSRC.

“It’s rewarding and exciting to see progress on a nationwide, coordinated approach to research,” Anderson says. “Every acre of soybean production and every soybean farmer will be the beneficiary.”

ISA CEO Kirk Leeds says that while the soybean family has been working toward this outcome for quite some time, USSRC brings much needed focus to the effort.

There are efficiencies to be gained throughout the soybean value chain, he adds. One example is linking the traits and genetics of soybeans grown by farmers with the end user’s needs.

“For the U.S. soybean industry to make the most of next 20 years, we must rethink our approach to research,” Leeds says. “Farmers can drive the full potential of these efforts when they engage and participate.”

Four goals emerged from the months long effort to guide research collaborations powered by the soybean checkoff:

1 // Provide research based solutions to soybean farmers for fully integrated and intelligent production systems that meet differentiated value opportunities.

2 // Provide organized and focused leadership for cooperation, coordination and alignment of soybean farmer research priorities and investments among states, regions and the USB.

3 // Establish leadership on partnerships for market research and similar work directed at attaining full connection across the soybean value chain and lead soybean research priorities that enhance farmer profitability.

This will enable delivery of short and long-range processors, customer, end-user and consumer-driven products and solutions.

4 // Establish the most cohesive, coordinated and meaningful research communications and research marketing program to help promote U.S. soy.

This will be done in partnership with soybean checkoff communications and marketing teams with expertise and/or contract relationships in communicating and marketing soybean farmers, farming, and science and technology innovations.