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What checkoff-funded research means for your bottom line

Local experts in crop and soil health work throughout the year to fine-tune soybean farming strategies to combat your toughest challenges. However, that’s not the only type of research supported by the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) and the soybean checkoff. There’s also an innovative team in Ohio focused on finding new uses for soybeans and inventing new soy-based products to build demand and, at the end of the day, improve the profitability of farms.

Todd Hesterman, a soybean farmer from Henry County, is a member of OSC’s farmer-led board and is currently part of the team focused on developing new uses for soybeans. As the Research Committee Chair, Todd knows firsthand the benefit this research provides for Ohio farmers.

“Every new product development means an increase in soybean usage and demand,” Hesterman said. “Every increase in demand helps utilize more soybeans which, in turn, helps the value of soybeans down the road.”

Every new product starts out as an idea.

“Some of the ideas come from the talented OSC staff and connections they have made over the years,” he said. “Some ideas come from well-placed requests for proposals made public to the industry and universities.”

The proposed ideas are then ranked for relevance to ensure they have potential to successfully impact demand. Then, they must be proven practical, achievable and economical by passing a proof of concept evaluation. OSC analyzes these attributes while comparing the idea to existing technology to ensure there’s potential for success. Once the proof of concept is passed, a pilot run of the product is initiated to see if it’s marketable. If it is, more beta testing may be done to fine-tune the processes or ingredients. Then, the product is ready to be produced commercially.

“The OSC research committee and OSC farmer board has final approval authority over which products and/or processes are ultimately funded by checkoff funds with input from our lead research staff member. The staff monitors all the approved projects and reports to the board and research committee on the progress that has been made on each of them,” Hesterman said.

When evaluating projects, the OSC research committee focuses on two primary factors: volume and sustainability. Nathan Eckel, a soybean farmer and OSC board member from Wood County, Ohio, has been a part of these evaluations as a past research committee chairman.

“When looking at proposals, the number one thing we talked about was volume to make sure we’d be providing demand for our soybeans,” Eckel said. “We really brainstormed what the vision of the product could be and what the potential impact on the soybean industry could be. We’d also look at the environmental impact of the new products from a sustainability standpoint because that’s important to us as farmers too.”

While OSC’s farmer-led board oversees and approves all product ideas, the experienced team at Airable Research Lab, which is funded by checkoff dollars in Delaware, Ohio, conducts research and development to make those ideas a reality.

OSC’s commitment to new product research sets the Ohio soybean industry apart and keeps Ohio farmers on the leading edge of a competitive marketplace.

Beyond the grocery store aisle, consumers are looking for greener, healthier alternatives to existing products, which is why OSC is constantly striving to find new soy-based solutions to fulfill that demand. For example, in collaboration with The Ohio State University and Battelle, OSC works on Roof MaxxTM, an earth-friendly soy-based shingle rejuvenator applied to aging roofs to extend the roof’s life for five years. Roof Maxx not only provides a sustainable, cost-saving option for homeowners across the country, it has also boosted demand for Ohio soybeans.

Enzomeal is another successful product from OSC’s new product research. In fact, the soybean-based fish feed won the 2017 R&D 100 Gold Special Recognition Award for Corporate Social Responsibility for improving the sustainability of the aquaculture industry while addressing the rising costs of fish feed. Right now, OSC is working with a seafood company in India to use Ohio soybeans to help them meet their goal of producing 50,000 tons of Enzomeal annually by 2020, which will require more than 1 million pounds of soybeans.

“Any time we can add new value to the crop or commodity we’re producing, it’s beneficial to us as farmers,” Eckel said. “Sometimes, we can get stuck in the same old ruts, thinking we’re only going to use soybeans for oil and soybean meal, but it’s beneficial to my farm to find new uses. We have to stay relevant to stand the test of time. That’s what the point of the checkoff and OSC is: to maintain our relevance in agriculture. We have to continue to push the envelope.”

Learn more about OSC’s new product research and other demand-driving initiatives here.

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