Research Highlights

Research Highlights
North Dakota Soybean Council embraces traditional and innovative research

Photo: United Soybean Board

By Carol Brown

North Dakota soybean farmers and the researchers who support them are a forward-thinking group. Kendall Nichols has the research to prove it. The North Dakota Soybean Council (NDSC) Director of Research helps the council strive to take care of their farmers as they work to raise the best crop they can.

“Our council is a progressive group. They are interested in research that can provide the farmer a good return on investment,” Nichols said. “We want to give farmers an advantage in their production systems and also look at ways to increase soybean demand.”

In North Dakota, the soybean is relatively new to its agricultural system. Nichols recalls when the crop was planted in just a few fields in the state. The NDSC looks to other states to benefit from their years of experience.

“Because other states have a more mature soybean industry, they may have more issues or more diseases may have impacted them,” Nichols said. “We try to learn from that. We’re all one industry and collaboration with other states and organizations is very important.”

The NDSC supports research on soybean issues in their state and also some that are widespread. The soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is a pest found across the country. North Dakota State University (NDSU) is home to the SCN Coalition, led by plant pathologist Sam Markell. The coalition is a national organization working together to combat this pest. White mold also affects many soybean growing states. NDSU plant pathologist Michael Wunsch is a leader in white mold research.

“I think Michael is one of the best researchers on white mold anywhere,” Nichols said. “He has some interesting information on maximizing your return on fungicides. Timing of spraying is critical and some of the old recommendations are probably outdated.”

In addition to supporting these agronomic issues, the NDSC invests checkoff money in research that broadens demand.

“If we weren’t reliant on one outlet, we can spread out demand between a number of different products and uses for soybeans, which could help stabilize prices,” Nichols said. “The U.S. soybean market can become more stable as we continue to find more products and uses for soybean oil and meal.”

The NDSC has supported various research projects that explore new uses for soybean oil. One project gaining ground in the state is using a soy-based product to control dust on gravel roads. Nichols said this project morphed into something else that may expand the product’s usage beyond the original goal.

“The council funded the research project about four or five years ago. The researchers compared the soy oil product with calcium chloride, which was traditionally used on gravel roads to keep the dust down,” Nichols said. “The soy oil product performed well, and it didn’t get washed off with the rain. It lasted two to three times longer; it didn’t have to be reapplied.”

The researchers found that it also showed an affinity for asphalt. The scientists are now exploring how this product can work with reclaimed asphalt. The hope is that in the future, roads would be repaved with asphalt previously removed from road surfaces and combined with the soy oil.

“It’s being scaled up now and there are companies doing larger-scale testing this year,” Nichols said. “We’re hopeful it can hit the market soon.”

This project is just one example of how researchers are exploring new uses for soy in North Dakota. Other projects are testing soy oil in building materials including spray-on insulation, polymers for chipboard and paint, and even in 3D printing.

Photo: United Soybean Board

“There’s a wide spectrum of what researchers are looking at using soybean oil,” Nichols said. “It’s a pretty nimble product that could be used in a lot of things we haven’t even thought of.”

North Dakota is already using soy oil products in innovative ways and farmers are reaping the benefits more directly than they probably know.  The WCCO Belting Company, based in Wahpeton, N.D., manufactures belting for industrial and agricultural use. One of the company’s product lines uses soy oil in the rubber compound.  Soybean farmers could be replacing belts on their combines or balers using products made from their soybeans.

The soybean checkoff is the common denominator in these advances. Nichols noted that if it weren’t for the checkoff, the price the farmer secures at the elevator would probably be quite a bit less.

“The soybean industry is working fervently to stablize the market. The United Soybean Board and the U.S. Soybean Export Council are trying to reopen some markets and establish new markets. These are well-spent dollars,” Nichols said.

“The checkoff is an investment in the future — like going to college or a trade school,” said Nichols. “When you learn a new skill, you expect that learning investment to return multiple times over, and I think the soybean checkoff does that.”

For more information on soybean research projects supported by the North Dakota Soybean Council, go to the state’s webpage:

Published: Sep 9, 2020