Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Cultivating cropportunities

Photo by Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

Soybean checkoff dollars fund research to build demand

By Lauren Houska, Iowa Soybean Association communications specialist 

Sometimes to make money, you have to spend money.  

That’s why the United Soybean Board (USB) and the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) have invested checkoff dollars in innovative research projects that yield more demand for U.S. soybeans. In turn, annual revenue has nearly quadrupled for U.S. soy farmers over the last 25 years. 

“Farmers are experts at producing soybeans,” says USB’s CEO Polly Ruhland. “While they take care of business on the farm, we’re taking care of business further down the supply chain, creating these so-called cropportunities.” 

Some are already well-known, from feed to fuel to food.  

Dave Walton, ISA District 6 director, says Iowa’s livestock and biodiesel industries are vital to creating demand for both oil and meal. 

Iowa is the leading biodiesel-producing state, manufacturing about 285 million gallons each year. The clean-burning fuel helped soybean farmers realize an average of $36 per acre in additional value from 2007 to 2015. At the same time, it helped lower the cost of soybean meal for livestock producers. 

“The livestock industry is our primary customer,” says Walton, who farms near Wilton. “That demand is critical to U.S. soybean farmers.” 

Animal agriculture consumed 31.2 million tons of soybean meal — a 1.3 billion-bushel equivalent — during the 2016/17 marketing year. Iowa livestock producers — primarily pig farmers — utilized more than 2.9 million tons of that total. 

The toil over oil 

Although it is well-known that U.S. soybeans help power the livestock and biodiesel industries, other cropportunities work their magic behind the scenes. From shoes to sealants and tires to tractor parts, soybeans are being put to work in more ways than ever before. 

“Any time the industry uses more of the soybean, farmers, companies and consumers are all in a better economic position and creating less waste,” Walton says. 

However, these non-food and non-biodiesel cropportunities are harder to come by and take longer to bring to market compared to soybean meal.  

“The business environment around soy is constantly changing,” Ruhland says. “I cannot stress enough the importance of finding new revenue streams for soybean oil.”  

Industrial, non-biodiesel use of soybean oil in the U.S. increased more than 50 percent in the last decade, according to USB. American industries consumed 127-million-bushel equivalents of soybean oil in the 2016/17 marketing year. 

More than 250 companies annually confirm with USB that they incorporate soy ingredients — more than 1,000 products have been verified as soy-based. Checkoff dollars have helped commercialize more than 150 soy-based products in recent years. 

“USB is like an incubator, helping new products get off the ground,” Walton explains. “Without the investment of soybean farmers’ checkoff dollars, it would be tough for some of these innovative ideas to come to fruition.” 

Following are a handful of products that are on the market and paying off:  

Supporting soles  

According to a Georgia-based shoe company, less than 1 percent of shoes worn in the U.S. today are made in America. Okabashi, one of the remaining 2 percent of shoe manufacturers still operating domestically, uses materials sourced in the U.S., including soybean oil. The company says soybean oil is the perfect fit because it helps the product meet all of its specifications, including softness to strength, and U.S. soybeans are abundantly available at the right price.  

Sweeping the flooring industry  

When the U.S. Green Building Council pressured wood-product manufacturers to reduce formaldehyde emissions, Columbia Forest Products (CFP) took a proactive approach. They attended a USB Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) meeting, adopted wood-glue technology from a checkoff-supported project and converted mills to incorporate soy-based glue in the production of PureBond™ panels. They are now sold in home improvement stores for interior applications. CFP has produced and sold more than 50 million PureBond panels. 

Hitting the road 

Each year, more products used on the road — and on the farm — are made using U.S. soybeans. Today, at least 20 pounds of soy foam is built into each of the 3 million vehicles Ford manufactures in North America. Goodyear’s Assurance WeatherReady tire — partially made with soybean oil — is offered in a wide range of sizes, covering 77 percent of cars, minivans and SUVs on the road today. John Deere estimates they use 2 million pounds of Envirez soy-based, sheet-molding compound in its HarvestForm™ tractor and combine body panels annually.  

Paving the way 

RePLAY® Agricultural Oil Seal and Preservation Agent, a bio-based sealant that contains a minimum 61 percent soybean oil and derivatives, penetrates asphalt and helps reverse the oxidation process on or below the surface. It also helps repair surface hairline cracks.  

RePLAY has been used as a sealant on approximately 118,000 lane miles in Minnesota. The product uses about 100 bushels of soybeans per lane mile. RePLAY extends the life of asphalt surfaces, and reduces labor costs and road closures during application. It also eliminates the harmful fumes of petroleum products used for road maintenance. 

Published: Jan 1, 1970