United Soybean Board (USB)
United Soybean Board (USB)

Farmer-Funded Innovations: checkoff breakthroughs support on-farm profitability


Source: United Soybean Board (USB)

Successful companies in the aviation, communications, computer and medical industries don’t stand still. They find solutions that will keep them a step ahead of the competition.

That goes for farmers, too.

Soybean farmers today see the results of innovation everywhere they turn. More seed varieties and machinery applications. More ways to get the information they need to help them make input and marketing decisions. And more ways of selling more soybeans to more customers.

The soy checkoff pushes innovation by developing products and processes that benefit U.S. soybean farmers. This means always looking ahead at what U.S. soybean farmers and their customers will need next.

That could include opening a door to a new export customer – such as the aquaculture industry in China, the country that now imports more U.S. soy than any other. It could include helping develop a new category of U.S. soybean varieties – high oleic – that could bring back billions of pounds of U.S. soybean oil demand. Or it could include biodiesel or any one of the hundreds of other soy-based products in use today that were commercialized with the help of the checkoff.

“There are a lot of innovations that would not exist without the checkoff,” says Mary Lou Smith, who has been one of the checkoff farmer-leaders behind the wheel driving these innovations for the past nine years.”

Throughout its history, the checkoff has leveraged partnerships to innovatively increase utilization of U.S. soy and maximize farmers’ profitability.

These partnerships result in innovations like creative marketing methods among current and future customers, revolutionary products that contain soy, research and promotion of soy’s positive attributes and production breakthroughs that help farmers on their operation. Just to name a few.

“The checkoff definitely has a role to play in developing innovations for farmers,” adds Smith, a farmer from Petersburg, Mich. “We fund a number of projects using farmer dollars to maximize farmers’ profitability.”

Here’s a quick look at just a few examples of ways the checkoff has innovated on farmers’ behalf.

Customer Relations

In 1998, the checkoff provided research and information to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that helped lead to a health claim linking consumption of soy protein with heart health. And later, the National Institutes of Health awarded the first grant to study additional links between soy protein and reduced risks to human health. The checkoff also supported research on the high oleic soybean trait, which meets food companies’ functionality needs from soybean oil while avoiding trans fats.

Additionally, for nearly 20 years, the checkoff has funded efforts to increase exports of U.S. poultry and meat to boost domestic soybean meal demand. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected repeated strong performances for poultry and pork exports in 2013 after a record-setting 2012.

Market Expansion

The checkoff helped fund the first aquaculture feeding trials in 1992, demonstrating how soy can feed fish in Asian markets. Today, global aquaculture is the fastest-growing segment of animal agriculture. Checkoff programs helped achieve the first sale of U.S. soy to China in 1996. Today, China is the largest international destination for U.S. soy, importing one out every four bushels of U.S. soybeans.

Market access is an important driver in increasing international sales, and the checkoff funds programs to help inform global customers on the benefits of biotechnology.


The checkoff funds tools to maintain and increase yields, including a joint effort with USDA that developed a soybean rust early-warning system in 2003. Using tools developed with checkoff funding, the Department of Energy Joint Genomics Institute mapped the soybean’s full genetic code in 2009, the first crop plant with a fully sequenced genome. This helps make development of U.S. soybean varieties more efficient.

And just last year, checkoff-funded research identified a key genetic structure for resistance to the billion-dollar yield robber, soybean cyst nematode (SCN). The genetic discovery enables researchers to develop new SCN-resistant varieties.

Product Development

John Deere began using checkoff-funded technology to manufacture a soy-based polymer for combine rear body panels in 2001, and USDA became the first federal department to install soy-backed carpeting the following year. The carpet uses EnviroCel™ soy-based backing, developed by Universal Textile Technologies with the help of checkoff-funded research. Similarly, artificial turf on sports fields at all levels now contains a backing system developed with checkoff support .

In 2012, a New York City regulation went into effect, requiring all heating oil sold in the city to be a 2 percent blend of Bioheat®, the brand name for mixtures of biodiesel with traditional heating oil. Checkoff-funded research into the environmental and economic benefits of biodiesel helped lead to developments like this one.

This story originally ran in the December 2013 edition of Beyond the Bean magazine. For more examples of how checkoff innovations benefit your operation.

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