Iowa State University has poised itself to become a national “hub” for soybean innovation and research after the Board of Regents last week gave the institution the nod to create Iowa’s first center committed to the widely used crop.
The new ISU-based Iowa Soybean Research Center will be a public-private partnership between the university and the Iowa Soybean Association aimed at, among other things, increasing training of students and staff for soybean-related research, education and production.
The center will encompass the areas of soybean biology, breeding, economics, precision agriculture, production and pest management. It will involve private industry personnel from seed, chemical, equipment and technology companies, according to regent documents.
Its goals include increasing collaboration, coordination and integration within the industry and aligning soybean-related activities at ISU with the needs of Iowa soybean farmers and industry officials.
Specifically, the center’s research will be used to breed higher-yielding and hardier soybeans, mitigate disease and pest issues, and help growers make better management decisions, according to the Iowa Soybean Association.
ISU is an ideal home for the center as Iowa leads the nation in soybean production, university officials said. In 2012, the state churned out 408 million bushels of soybeans worth $5.6 billion to $6.4 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Iowa Soybean Association reports that the Midwest, including Iowa, produces more than 88 percent of the country’s soybeans.
Soybean farming also contributes to the state’s economy through business enterprises.
Iowa is home to numerous organizations working to improve plant health, yield and profitability of soybean production — including ISU. But the state has no mechanism for fostering collaboration among the various research entities, ISU reported to the Board of Regents.
The proposed center, therefore, is needed to unite scientists and educators from public and private entities to discuss research and educational needs; share experiences, ideas and technologies; and offer opportunities to advance the science and business of soybean production in Iowa, according to regent documents.
Officials with the Iowa Soybean Association said they approached ISU last year about forming a center to make soybean production “a more competitive option for farmers.”
“The crop has experienced a decline of nearly 1.6 million acres in Iowa during the past decade,” the association said.
But international need for soybeans is on the rise, making soybean research increasingly relevant, industry experts reported. And Iowa has no other center, institute or college focused on the “production and protection of soybeans.”
Nationally, experts said they expect only a few soybean research hubs to thrive into the future, and ISU’s is positioned to be among the leaders, capable of garnering large grants.
Greg Tylka, ISU professor of plant pathology with extension and research responsibilities in management of plant-parasitic-nematodes, has been named the center’s director. He will spend 25 percent of his time managing the center and will be joined by a full-time administrative specialist and a half-time communications specialist.
The total cost to operate the center will start at $148,164 in the first year and increase to $228,232 by year seven. It will be supported by internal and external funds and will be reviewed every five years.
“It’s providing an organization for innovation,” Tylka said in a news release. “We want to help Iowa farmers increase yields and preserve them.”