(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)
Nearing retirement, Anderson reflects on decades in soybean research
April 26, 2023 | Bethany Baratta
Ed Anderson, Ph.D., always considered himself a “plant guy.” The Woolstock, Iowa, native grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm, and in a sense, never left.
After decades of serving farmers and the soybean industry in various capacities, Anderson is set to retire from his position as the senior director of research from Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI).
The fifth generation raised on the family’s farm, Anderson thought he might farm. But amid the farm crisis of the 1980s, his parents urged him to go to college and pursue further education.
“I never got to farm, but I stayed in agriculture,” he says.
He studied pre-engineering at Loras College, then transferred to Iowa State University where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Biochemistry. He then earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Plant Virology, plant pathology, from the University of Missouri-Columbia. (He would later put his engineering background to good use; he holds two patents for an automated plant analysis method, apparatus, and system using imaging technologies and another for a seed sampling apparatus and method.)
Back to his roots
He married his high school sweetheart, Brenda, and together they traversed the country with stops in Missouri, Florida, and Arkansas for educational and career opportunities. But it was a trip back to the farm around 1997 where Ed and Brenda decided to return to Iowa. They wanted to raise their five children near family; Brenda and Ed grew up less than 10 miles from each other.
Back in Iowa, Anderson landed at Pioneer. Thus began a 15-year career collaborating in trait strategy and leading a group of scientists, engineers and computer software developers in the exploration, development and integration of methodologies, software and instrumentation for automation and high throughput screening applications in Pioneer Hi-Bred's laboratories. His teams also developed strategies for controlling plant disease-causing pathogens and developing value-enhancing output traits for all crops in all geographies.
But opportunity knocked in 2013. The position at Iowa Soybean Association was open, and he was ready for a career change. He accepted the phone call during a break between a wrestling tournament his sons were competing in at Pella. This phone call—and the opportunity thereafter—brought Anderson’s career full circle.
Celebrating leadership, collaboration
In the past 10 years, Anderson has provided technical and administrative leadership to ISA and the 13-state North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) farmer boards in prioritizing, funding, tracking, and delivering results from soybean checkoff funded basic and applied university research programs at more than 13 major land grant universities. (He’ll still be serving as executive director of NCSRP after his retirement from ISA.)
He credits ISA CEO Kirk Leeds for Leeds’ visionary leadership in creating the ISU Iowa Soybean Research Center in 2014, a partnership between the Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa State University. Led by Dr. Greg Tylka, this Center has grown to be a model of university, checkoff, and industry partnership for advancing soybean research. In partnership with Dr. Tylka and his staff, Anderson coordinates communication and collaboration across seven state soybean research centers in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky. Recently, North Carolina’s center at NCSU and the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association have joined this Coordinated Soybean Centers Group.
Not one to stand down from an opportunity to collaborate and build efficient processes, Anderson has provided strategic leadership to the U.S. Soybean Research Collaborative (USSRC), a program created to expand multistate research opportunities across the value chain, beyond traditional ‘production’ research to new opportunities in feed, fuel, food and fiber for the short- and long-term benefits to U.S. soybean farmers and the soybean industry.
Anderson’s position at ISA—and the other roles with NCSRP, USSRC, and the Iowa Soybean Research Center—have allowed him to “live vicariously through farmers as a farm kid,” he says.
He’s proud of the collaboration he’s been a part of during his tenure at ISA, including the coordination of a multi-regional project supported by the United Soybean Board he helped coordinate currently underway at Texas Tech researching flower abortion in soybeans. The project aims to increase soybean flower and pod retention, providing an unrealized value of $50 per acre or $400 million in returns to U.S. soybean farmers. He knows the projects and programs are being left in capable hands.
Anderson is proud of the way the ISA supply committee collaborates with Iowa State University, bringing a farmer’s voice to the table when it comes to researching important on-farm questions/challenges, and how farmers are driving research opportunities that span the very basic discovery through development, commercialization, and adoption.
Celebrating decades working with, for, and in support of farmers, Anderson says he’s grateful for his long and diverse career. Working at ISA for these past 10 years has been the second best job he’s ever had—the first being a production welder and a farm kid for his parents. And it’s hard to beat that.
If you’d like to send Ed a note, drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org