The fledgling Iowa Soybean Research Center is starting to take off. Several milestones were achieved in 2015, the center's first full year of existence. Officials are confident momentum will continue to build, eventually taking soybean research and production to new heights. The center is located in the agronomy department at Iowa State University in Ames and is a partnership between ISU and the Iowa Soybean Association.
"We're excited about the opportunities for 2016," says Ed Anderson, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) senior director of supply and production systems, who helped form the center. The center was approved by the Iowa Board of Regents in June 2014. It was created to provide a more disciplined approach to funding and identifying priority-driven research. Farmers, industry and university experts can now work together to determine what soybean research has been done, consider new opportunities and prioritize and fund new projects.
Funding provided by Iowa Soybean Association, ISU and industry
Funded by ISA, ISU and industry partners, the center's goal is to increase soybean competitiveness, production and profitability for Iowa farmers. It's well on its way to do just that, leaders say. Some of the primary accomplishments so far include hiring staff, formalizing operating guidelines, assembling management and advisory teams, securing two major industry partners and funding several soybean research projects.
Center director Greg Tylka, a professor of plant pathology and microbiology specializing in soybean cyst nematode research at ISU, says these are huge victories considering the center started from scratch. "We didn't have phone lines, Internet access or anything," Tylka notes. "We're definitely heading in the right direction." He adds, "I think we've met expectations, but I'm impatient. My vision is 10 years from now not the first 18 months."
What will the future bring for Iowa Soybean Research Center?
Tylka's vision includes millions of dollars coming through the center from industry partners and government grants leveraged with soybean checkoff funds to support multiple research teams and projects.
The center's fiscal year 2016 operating budget is $255,000. ISA, ISU and the center's first two industry partners — Bayer CropScience and Monsanto — are the primary contributors. A third industry partner has pledged financial support, which will be released at a later time once details are finalized. Tylka is in discussions with 15 other potential industry partners (co-ops, seed, chemical, fertilizer companies, etc.) to help make his vision a reality. Large (over 500 employees) and small companies are annually asked to contribute $50,000 and $15,000, respectively.
Critically important for the center to have more industry partners
Tylka and Anderson hoped five or six large companies and several small ones would be actively and financially involved at this time. "Candidly, we're definitely not where we want to be," Anderson says. "However, when you consider the slump in the ag economy, everyone is tightening their budgets. I think we'll get there." Tylka adds, "It's critically important to have industry partners. Without them, the mission of the center is incomplete … to prioritize and fund unfulfilled research needs in soybean production."
That started to come to fruition in early September when the center's Industry Advisory Council (IAC), made up of more than 10 ISA staff, farmers and industry representatives, met for the first time to discuss research priorities and recommend project proposals. "We had some great conversations," says Chuck White, IAC member and farmer from Spencer. "We talked about taking soybean yields to the next level. The first meeting was tremendous."
Planning is underway to host a think tank-style discussion early next year, consisting of farmers and some of the best and brightest minds in agriculture and the soybean industry, to identify research opportunities.
Fulfilling the mission with several key research projects underway
The center's management team met for the first time in late September. Led by Wendy Wintersteen, dean of ISU's College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the team, which includes Anderson and four ISU College of Ag department heads, approved four ISU research projects recommended by the council, most of which were already partially funded by ISA. These include:
• Unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing, led by Matt Darr, Ph.D., an appropriation of $36,893.
• Molecular basis of soybean cyst nematode parasitism, Thomas Baum, Ph.D., $63,922.
• Cropping systems modeling for soybeans, Sotirios Archontoulis, Ph.D., $79,914.
• Resistance management (pollinator habitat, monarch butterfly habitat, pest resistance management strategies), Steve Bradbury, Ph.D., $30,000.
IAC member Steve Berger, who farms near Wellman, is encouraged by what the center offers farmers. Eventually, he'd like to see more attention paid to weed control, herbicide resistance and the role cover crops play. In particular, stopping Palmer amaranth before the nasty weed becomes too much of a problem in Iowa. "We still have an opportunity to get ahead of this issue," Berger says.
Anderson says establishing the operating guidelines was absolutely critical. Industry funding couldn't be accepted until that occurred because partners want to know how money would be invested. The guidelines also spelled out the center's role within the ISU research community, especially ISA checkoff-funded research. "This clarifies how the center will operate and how funding would be leveraged. This is an ISU-run center … but farmers still have total control over checkoff dollars," Anderson says.
Tylka spends about half of his time at the center housed in Suite 2101 in Agronomy Hall on the Ames campus. Other staff members include Clarke McGrath, the center's on-farm research coordinator. He works with researchers and farmers, and works closely with Tristan Mueller, ISA's On-Farm Network operations manager for agronomic research, to conduct on-farm research trials. A search is ongoing to hire a new program coordinator, who recently left to take another position at the university.
Advisory Council formed: The initial 10 industry advisory council members include Ed Anderson, chairman; Steve Berger, farmer from Wellman; A.J. Blair, farmer from Dayton; Chuck White, farmer from Spencer; Kevin Cavanaugh, director of research for Beck's Hybrids; Will Cornelius, soybean lead for Cornelius Seed; Warren Kruger, northern soy regional lead for Monsanto; Kermit Price, soybean technical integration manager for Bayer; Myron Stine, vice president of sales and marketing for Stine Seed, and Ryan Wolf, agronomy services manager for Winfield.