Todd Sutphin explains the Research Center for Farming I

Todd Sutphin gives an overview of the Research Center for Farming Innovation portfolio during a recent Experience Class meeting. (Photo: Aaron Putze, APR/Iowa Soybean Association)

More soybeans, more returns featured topic during ISA Experience Session

April 1, 2021 | Aaron Putze, APR

With a new growing season about to emerge, it was only fitting that a recent meeting of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Experience Class focused on soybean production and conservation research.

Hosted by Tarin and Ryan Tiefenthaler on their diversified farm near Carroll, class participants devoted a day-long workshop to digging into the work and results of the Research Center for Farming Innovation.

There’s a lot to know and numerous opportunities for farmers to engage in activities centered on growing more soybeans more profitability.

“Everything we do is focused on bringing value to soybean farmers,” RCFI Sr. Research Program Manager Todd Sutphin said. “We begin every project with a business discussion to ensure we hit the mark on profitability and conservation goals.”

The ISA Experience bills itself as part ISA understanding, part opportunity surfacing, part industry insight and a whole lot of networking building. Around a dozen farmers are invited each year to participate in the leadership development program. 

Nearly a dozen farmers joined in the March 23 session personally and virtually. They included ISA President Jeff Jorgenson and directors Scot Bailey of Anita and Marty Danzer of Carroll. ISA and Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) staff helped facilitate the discussion and answer questions.

Jorgenson urged farmers to leverage their investment in the soybean checkoff by participating in ISA research activities.

“You can’t achieve better results on your farm without sharing your experiences with those who can help,” said Jorgenson, who farms near Sidney. “As farmers, we need to take the wheel to get to the goals we’ve set for our operations.

ISA’s farmer-driven approach to serving farmers is the perfect complement for RCFI.

“Farmers provide direction on what they want to know,” he added. “Then, the RCFI team goes to work identifying the best approach to arrive at solutions.”

Opportunities to engage go far beyond the Experience Class, said RCFI field service program manager Drew Clemmensen.

Enhancing nitrogen and manure management, reducing or eliminating tillage and sowing cover crops can be readily adapted on most operations and with a positive impact to the bottom line. RCFI field trials focusing on these practices can be tailored for operations of all sizes and in all locations throughout Iowa.

Peer-to-peer interaction, said Clemmensen, can further unlock the potential of conducting on-farm research trials that involve RCFI team members.

“Farmers know what works best for them,” he said. “Our goal is to facilitate those interactions and provide the kind of information that can spur discussion, trial adoption and decision making.”

Helping farmers collect and use data more effectively is also a priority for RCFI. Clemmensen said data can accrue so quickly that, if not managed, will soon overwhelm even the most experienced farmer.

“The power isn’t the data, but sorting through, analyzing and acting on it,” he said. “RCFI can help farmers make better use of data, thus bringing greater value to the operation.”

As technology evolves, so does the RCFI’s approach to assessing crop production products and performance. ISA researchers are incorporating drones more frequently in their work. Last year, the team utilized the technology to assess fungicide application timing and volumes.

“Going airborne fits well within our research portfolio,” Clemmensen said. “It provides an efficient way to collect and analyze data and then adjust farming practices to turn that information into higher yielding soybeans.”

Experience Class participant Jacob Nolson of Hubbard said RCFI’s farmer-driven approach to research appeals to his commitment to improving soil and water quality in concert with stronger yields.

While the adoption of more conservation practices on more acres is gaining momentum, Nolson said the work of RCFI can enhance the pace and scale of adoption.

“The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy lays a great foundation,” he said, “But the goals it outlines will not be met in our lifetimes if we don’t scale up. The work of RCFI will help facilitate more practices in more places and that will be good for agriculture and all Iowans.”

Putze can be reached at or 515-334-1099

Kaitlin Little - Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance

Gary Langein - ISA member

Nate Firle - Becks Hybrids

Ethan Lambert - ISA member

Drew Clemmenson - Research Center for Farming Innovation