The inaugural SoyFest at Iowa State University celebrated the versatility of soybeans. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

SoyFest showcases soy on ISU campus

August 31, 2021 | Bethany Baratta

The inaugural campus-wide celebration of soybeans, SoyFest, helped students, faculty and staff at Iowa State University connect the many ways soybeans play a role in their everyday lives.

The Iowa Soybean Research Center, located at Iowa State University, organized the event. The Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Food and Family Project were two of several sponsors.

“It’s all about expanding the appreciation and the value of soybeans to the state of Iowa,” said Greg Tylka, director of the Iowa Soybean Research Center and Morrill Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University.

The event featured several connections to food — soy ice cream, pork sticks, edamame, popcorn popped in soy oil, and grilled pork and soy burgers.

The Iowa State University Creamery created a specially formulated ice cream for the event, appropriately named “SoyFest.” The chocolate soy ice cream was topped with chocolate-covered soybeans. The ice cream was a favorite among SoyFest visitors; 1,500 cups of ice cream were devoured before the event’s end.

Soy is a vital ingredient to the business, says Sarah Canova, business administrator for the Iowa State University Creamery.

“Besides the SoyFest ice cream, we have soy in a lot of our products,” she said. “A lot of our inclusions like our cookie and brownie pieces have soy lecithin in them for sticking. It’s an important ingredient for the ice cream industry.”

The Iowa State University Creamery employs students from product formulation to its retail store within the Food Sciences Building and through marketing and social media. It’s one example of how the soybean industry drives economic development.

While soybean production makes up the bulk of the economic impact at $11.5 billion, soybean delivery, grain elevators and crushing make up $2.56 billion. Feed milling and selected food use account for $311 million of Iowa’s total impact. Soy oil refining and soy biodiesel production add $256 million to the value of Iowa soybeans, according to a United Soybean Board-commissioned study.

Sharan Raman, a graduate student in chemical and biological engineering, speaks with SoyFest attendees about the use of soybeans in asphalt products. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

Showcasing research

Iowa State University is home to several soybean-related projects and products.

One such project is researching how soybean oil could replace petroleum as a binding agent in creating asphalt. Eric Cochran, the Mary Jane Skogen Hagenson & Randy L. Hagenson Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, spoke about the formulation and the process of creating this alternative to petroleum-based asphalt products.

“It’s a really fun opportunity to showcase what we’ve been up to for the last 10 years with the Iowa State community,” Cochran said. “We had a lot of really great interaction with the students and some of the other faculty.”

SoyFest was held outside of Engineering Hall, garnering the interest of students who might not have in-depth knowledge of soybeans.

“We want students to know how versatile soy is and how really practical applications come out of research,” Cochran said.

Years of research and investments from the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and the United Soybean Board (USB) are paying off; the bio-based polymer product is a part of highways and parking lots in Iowa and in other states. 

Made possible through the checkoff

The Iowa Soybean Research Center was established on July 1, 2014. Its goal: to leverage soybean farmer investment in research with industry money to support soybean research at Iowa State.

“The Iowa Soybean Research Center, with the support of farmers trough the Iowa Soybean Association, are studying from molecules to management,” Tylka said. “From individual molecules that soybean plants or their pests may produce all the way up to managing soybean cyst nematode in the field — and everything in between.”

Tylka said the soybean research center — and SoyFest — hit on the three missions of the university: research, teaching, and extension.

ISU ag engineers created a robot that can drive itself through a field to measure through thousands of images a minute: the height, thickness of a plant, leaf area, angle of a leaf — all fed into a computer and related to yield as a way to use technology to build a better bean.

The scientists study soybean pests like nematodes and insects, diseases, and weeds. Scientists use drone images and hyperspectral imaging to identify herbicide-resistant weeds.

“We span the gamut from very applied research — testing varieties and learning which ones are the best or worst — to using drones in the sky to help find herbicide-resistant weeds and run robots through the fields to measure plant growth and relate it to yield,” Tylka said.

The work of the Iowa Soybean Research Center is supported by the Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa’s soybean farmers.

“It’s important for farmers to know that their support of research at Iowa State is critical,” Tylka said. “And the center wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for their support of Iowa State through the Iowa Soybean Association.”