Farmer-owned cooperative

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Experiencing Iowa's soybean industry

October 1, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

A three-day tour in the western half of Iowa showed participants in the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Experience Class how their checkoff investments are being used in education, promotion and research efforts. Here’s where they went:

Corteva Agriscience, Johnston

Corteva Agriscience is the only major agriscience company completely dedicated to agriculture. The company combines the strengths of DuPont Pioneer, DuPont Crop Protection, and Dow AgroSciences for a combined lifespan of over two centuries.

Experience Class members visited the Genotyping Lab, where plant materials, including whole seeds, leaf and root tissue, are sampled from across the globe for trait confirmation.

“It is nice to have the understanding to know the traits that go into a bag of seed are confirmed,” says Paul Kassel, ISA District 1 director and soybean farmer near Spencer.

Farmers standing near soybean field

They also got a sneak peek into the future of Corteva seed in their crop genome engineering lab, where scientists are working on developing traits for higher yields, and pest and weed resistance.

Before visiting commercial plots, the group looked inside Corteva’s greenhouse, which is the second link in the chain after the lab. The greenhouse spans four acres, and everything that will be in a Corteva seed bag in 10 years will have been tested in the facility.

Corteva regularly sponsors the American Soybean Association’s Corteva Young Leader Program, the Iowa Soybean Research Center (ISRC) at Iowa State University and advertises in the Iowa Soybean Review. These investments leverage soybean checkoff dollars to strengthen programming and research efforts.

Flynn Wright, Inc., Des Moines

Established in 1984, Flynn Wright, Inc. is headquartered in Des Moines. They are a full-service advertising agency that offers marketing, advertising, public relations and more.

Media partners, such as Flynn Wright, Inc., help in ISA’s Communications Squad programming, offering participants tips on better presenting themselves and their farms to nonfarming audiences.

The Experience Class saw a behind-the-scenes look at how Flynn Wright, Inc. works for its clients, including ISA.

Farmers sitting down with marketing agency

ISA works with Flynn Wright, Inc., to conduct the Annual Farmer Survey to explore opportunities that support farmer profitability, productivity and sustainability efforts.

“The survey provides valuable farmer insights to the board of directors to help make decisions on how they will allocate checkoff dollars. It also guides the program and priorities of focus for ISA staff and gives the organization a better understanding of on-farm behaviors and characteristics,” says ISA Public Relations Manager Brock Johnston.

The survey also gauges producer satisfaction with the soybean checkoff and familiarity with ISA. The survey is sent via email and text to all active and non-activated Iowa farmers who’ve certified they grow at least 250 bushels of soybeans annually.

Iowa State University Field Extension Education Laboratory (FEEL), Boone

With more than 400 demonstration plots, FEEL offers a wide range of educational opportunities. The field lab has provided hands-on diagnostic training for crop production and protection professionals since 1987. Learning opportunities include insect, weed and disease management, crop fertility, corn and soybean production, tillage and crop rotation, reconstruction of prairies, hail damage, and fertilizer and herbicide injuries, with many plots dedicated to particular seasonal challenges.

The tour involved a close-up look at the demonstration plots, classroom time spent identifying soybean plant diseases with Iowa State University (ISU) experts, and an insight into the Iowa Soybean Research Center (ISRC).

The ISRC partners with ISA, industry leaders, farmers and researchers at ISU. The goal of this effort is to identify and fund research in the areas of soybean production and protection.

Iowa soybean farmers learning about research

The center involves and helps coordinate research, teaching and extension activities of faculty and staff who work in soybean biology, breeding, economics precision agriculture, production and pest management at ISU and ISA. Financial support for the ISRC comes from ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, soybean checkoff investment and industry partners.

As of 2022, the ISRC reached a new milestone, having been awarded more than $2 million in research funding since its inception in 2014. This includes funding from ISA and industry dollars combined.

Working collaboratively, ISA has helped fund and assist with soybean cyst nematode (SCN) research.

“We have the biggest field research program in the nation to evaluate soybean cyst nematode resistant varieties and seed treatments, and we are doing that on farmer’s fields,” says Greg Tylka, director of the ISRC and Morrill Professor at Iowa State University.

ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) collaborates with ISRC by scouting fields and gathering soil samples. This is just one example of the partnership.

“We are all working for the Iowa soybean farmer,” Tylka says.

Blair Farm, Dayton

At AJ and Kellie Blair’s farm near Dayton, Experience Class participants saw how an idea can start as a concept and grow to an on-farm practice.

The ISA members have participated in RCFI trials, including research on cover crops, tile monitoring, and recently installed a drainage water recycling structure.

Iowa farmers walking through crop fields

The three-acre area features a holding pond and the excess water captured is used later in the growing season in a pivot-irrigation system.

RCFI's goal is to deliver the very best farmer-led research combining agronomic, conservation and analytics tailored for soybean farmers so they can implement results and improve their operation. Soybean checkoff investment helps fund these research efforts across the state. The insights derived from these trials help create interactive tools to help farmers make more informed decisions on their farm.

Landus, Ralston

As a farmer-owned cooperative headquartered in Iowa, Landus works directly with thousands of farmers in communities throughout rural America. Using data to connect key contributors across the ag supply chain, Landus helps farmers build sustainable and profitable businesses and activates a more secure food and fuel future for farmers and consumers.

Experience Class participants saw how Landus is using locally-raised soybeans to make SoyPlus, a high-bypass protein feed ingredient for dairy rations.

In addition to producing the feed ingredient, Landus also markets soy oil to the renewable diesel industry.

Iowa soybean farmers on learning trip

More than 70,000 bushels of soybeans are processed through the all-natural, mechanical expeller process. Using more than 25 million bushels of soybean each year, the Ralson plant is one of the largest mechanical processing facilities in the world.

“I love learning about where our end product goes,” says Brian Strasser, a farmer from Homestead. “So much of the time, when we are growing our crops, we don’t really understand where it goes and what people do with it. It was rewarding to be on the Landus SoyPlus tour.”

More than 30 million tons of U.S. soybean meal was used in livestock feed last year. According to SoyStats, this includes the soybean meal and products processed by Landus facilities in Iowa. (Soy Stats, produced by the American Soybean Association with support from ISA).

Wilson Trailer, Sioux City

Nearly 587 million bushels of soybeans were produced in Iowa last year. Those bushels and livestock fed with soy byproducts were transported to cooperatives and other facilities in trailers like those manufactured at Wilson Trailer. Participants on the tour learned of the company’s 130-plus year history in livestock, grain and flatbed trailer sales.

Farmers touring trailer production facility

Wilson Trailer Company maintains headquarters in Sioux City, Iowa, and operates five modern production plants in Yankton, South Dakota; Moberly, Missouri; Lennox, South Dakota and Sioux City. Two of those five facilities are located in Sioux City. Family-owned since its origin, Wilson Trailer is guided by the fourth generation of this family and the fifth generation is poised for future company leadership. Here, participants learned how the company continues the legacy in the design, manufacture, and marketing of transportation products.

Port of Blencoe, Blencoe

Realizing the opportunities a port would bring to Iowa farmers, ISA board of directors in 2020 approved a checkoff investment of $49,525 toward the engineering, design and plan development of a port on Iowa’s west ‘coast’.

Experience Class saw the port in action during the visit. Located halfway between Council Bluffs and Sioux City on the Missouri River, the Port of Blencoe is a gateway to the world markets. Owned by NEW Cooperative, Inc., this port is the farthest stop north on the Missouri River, shifting high-volume freight from the road to the waterway.

Iowa farmers at export port

Barges began transporting grain and fertilizer to and from the port in the spring of 2021. In addition, growers in western Iowa will get the first opportunity for trade at the world market. The 38-acre site can accommodate 240,000 tons of soybeans, corn, dried distillers grains (DDGS), dry fertilizers and ag lime annually. The site also has the capacity to unload, clean and reload up to nine barges simultaneously.

Benson Hill Ingredients, LLC, Creston

Farmers and Benson Hill are growing specific soybean varieties to meet the exact needs of consumers. One of these soybean varieties is explicitly

crushed for the aquaculture industry to feed trout and salmon. The farmers specializing in the varieties they grow are seeing additional value come back to their farm.

Participants learned how Benson Hill Ingredients, LLC is focused on producing and selling quality ingredients for food, feed and cooking oil. The company works to enhance protein, value-added oils and more. Their portfolio includes soy flour used in snacks, baked goods, meat extensions, and traditional soy protein concentrate alternatives.

Iowa farmers with Dustin Brucker

Benson Hill’s Creston facility acquisition of the former ZFS Creston, LLC facility was completed in January of 2022. The facility is an established food-grade white flake and soy flour manufacturing operation. Soy white flake is a key ingredient for food-grade applications in products for aquaculture markets in northern Europe and ingredients for companies like Kellogg’s.

“I was impressed with their crushing process and to learn about their international and domestic markets of soy protein and soy products,” says Kassel.

Trip Overview

Participants visited eight different stops during this year’s Experience Class tour, from innovative research centers to ports and waterways.

“The ISA Experience Class gave participants an inside look at the work ISA is doing on behalf of Iowa’s soybean farmers,” says Kennady Moffitt, ISA producer services coordinator.

“These visits hit home the benefits of checkoff dollars,” says Moffitt.

Realizing the scope of what ISA does and it’s involvement with industry partners is part of participating in the Experience Class.

“You are bringing farmers that may not have engaged with the Iowa Soybean Association before and letting them meet and interact with board members, staff and the industry and get a feel for what we do every day and the relationship we have with those partners,” says Randy Miller, past ISA president and soybean farmer from Lacona. It also gives farmers a chance to network.

“You get to meet people from all over the state that use different farming practices,” says Miller. “It helps you to hone in on some different practices that might work on your operation.”

Though not new to ISA’s program offerings, farmer Brian Strasser of Homestead said the Experience Class tour showed him a broader view of ISA.

“I had already participated in Policy Leaders Fellowship, but I want to know more about the Iowa Soybean Association,” he says. “I continue to see opportunities for doing more with the association in the future.”

Paul Kassel, ISA District 1 director and soybean farmer near Spencer, enjoyed meeting other farmers and seeing firsthand how soy gets from the bag to the end destination.

“This was a great trip,” he says. “It was an excellent overview of the soybean industry in Iowa.”