Leading Through Research
By Brandelyn Martin
As harvest draws to a close, Durham Farms, LLC will be evaluating results obtained from the soybean varieties it planted this year. Kyle Durham of Norborne said this is a yearly occurrence on their farm.
“Good is never good enough,” he said. “We select the good varieties and we select the not so good varieties, and we evaluate them and make those selections and those decisions for next year.”
This constant evaluation is how Durham progresses yields and supports the bottom line on his individual operation, similar to work being done by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) to support farmers across the entire state.
He explained that the purpose is to always be improving, making research one way MSMC carries out its vision of “Empowering Missouri Soybean farmers through innovation.” The board of directors chooses to invest a portion of Missouri soybean farmers’ checkoff dollars in funding research each year.
Ensuring the biggest return on investment for growers is a key function of the MSMC research committee. Chairman Cecil DeMott and members Kyle Durham, Rex Wood, Harold Gloe and Lewis Rone work with their fellow board members and gather input from soybean farmers statewide to set priorities based on the needs of growers, sort through research proposals and guide the board of directors in funding research projects to provide the greatest benefit to farmers.
“The committee itself is made up of folks who are dedicated to really sitting down and working through what can be some really tough language,” Durham said. “We’re all farmers by trade, and sometimes these projects can be so in depth when you get to talking about these new frontiers in agriculture, it can be a little daunting. You have to have people willing to dive in to figure out what the research means and if it will benefit the farmers in the state.”
The work the committee puts forth to utilize various resources to understand research language and work through proposals is paralleled by the members’ passion for research.
“I’m passionate about a lot of the new use research,” Durham said. “In the past, MSMC was a leader in developing biodiesel. Today, we are a leader in the development of non-GMO high oleic soybean. And now with the Center for Soy Innovation coming forward, Missouri Soybeans is poised to continue to be that soybean leader into the future.”
Rex Wood of Linn County has a similar passion for soybean research that keeps pace with the fast-adapting industry. Wood retired from the board in 2016 and was appointed by MSMC Chairman Alpers to continue serving on the committee.
“In agriculture, things are changing rapidly,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have researchers in the ag field who are willing to put the time and effort into doing this research.”
While he’s impressed by the proposals received, Wood and the other committee members agreed that choosing projects to support is an obstacle they must overcome.
“The biggest challenge is having enough research dollars to fund more projects,” Wood said. “Some of the projects are huge and we can’t handle that type of funding, so we encourage them to go to United Soybean Board (USB) or other sources for additional funding. Trying to weed out the proposals is hard, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Wood sees the impact of soybean research on his own farm, which helps him focus on the end goal while sorting through projects to benefit operations across Missouri.
“I have livestock – I raised hogs for forty years and I still have cattle,” he said. “I’m really interested in the types of research that deal with feed and how to breed soybeans so that they’re better utilized for livestock. Protein and oil content certainly varies, and it makes a difference.”
His inherent interest in research also helps.
“I’ve always been interested in research,” he said. “I graduated from the University of Missouri and majored in ag economics and farm management. I’m not an early adopter of technology, but I certainly appreciate new technology and improved varieties.”
Like Wood, Cecil DeMott of Atchison County brings a personal interest in research to his work on the committee.
“I’ve always thought we need to look into on-farm research,” he said. “I’ve put plots out of corn and soybean for several years just to see what works on our farm and with our soil types, so it’s always been something in the back of my mind.”
“When I went on the Merchandising Council board, I could really see what was going on with research, and it’s been a great eyeopener to see what we need to spend our money on and to see where we’re heading.”
For DeMott, working on the research committee isn’t something that only benefits farmers in Missouri, but across the U.S. and beyond.
“I think joint research with other states is very important,” DeMott said. “The pooling of dollars from other states is beneficial. Instead of one university working on a project, you might have three or four working on a problem. I feel that with more researchers involved, we can find solutions faster than each state trying to do it on their own.”
He is able to put this theory into practice through working as Missouri’s representative for the North-Central Soybean Research Program, which focuses on joint regional research.
Harold Gloe of Hermann also appreciates a collective effort in soybean exploration.
“It’s important to continue with things that will contribute to the bottom line,” Gloe said. “Now, with prices we’ve seen this last year, it’s going to be more important to either cut costs or increase yields and increase markets to get the price back up again.”
“It’s going to take some research into different areas to come up with a solution. We need multiple minds put together and someone thinking outside the box. We’re not having too much problem growing beans, we just need new ways to sell them, so focusing on new uses and research into practices is important.”
Committee member Lewis Rone of Portageville shares his interest in results.
“I’m passionate about trying to help the farmer,” he said. “That’s the key, and the research can help.”
Because of this desire to help farmers, Rone is especially proud of the variety testing funded by MSMC.
“We build partnerships and collaborate to give the farmer an option to plant soybeans at a lower cost per acre,” he said.
He is also proud of the results obtained by investing farmers’ checkoff dollars.
“The story that beats everything is biodiesel – started in Missouri,” Rone said. “Those are success stories that, without the checkoff in Missouri, might have not gotten done. In my opinion, farmers in the U.S. have been greatly rewarded by checkoff efforts in Missouri.”
Rone, along with the other members of the committee, has seen the impact research can have on Missouri soybean farmers.
“Soybean farmers care about the results of the research because their livelihood depends on it,” Rone said. “Not just our research, but all research. The thought is that you’re trying to improve our yields and the value-added portion of the bean.”
Durham said these results are increased by the local nature of some research funded by MSMC.
“I think the research aspect of what the checkoff does is probably one of the most significant pieces,” Durham explained. “There are so many variables that go in to soybean production, even within the state of Missouri, that the applied research that we do is of tremendous benefit because it is tailored to Missouri varieties grown on Missouri acres. We can have the localized, highly tailored research projects done that really benefit our growers here in Missouri.”
Wood agreed and said research projects that focus on helping farmers have a big impact, especially when considering their bottom line.
“We are dependent on other people to have a profitable farming operation, and when the margins are pretty thin, if you can pick up a few cents a bushel here or there because of research, whether it be higher protein or higher oil beans, it’s a win-win.”
Similarly, DeMott sees a reliance on soybean research for the industry to serve its full purpose.
“If soybean farmers care about increasing yields and feeding the world, then we need research,” he said.
These benefits to growers hit home for every member of the research committee.
“What we want to make sure when we spend those research dollars is that we are making the most of that investment,” Durham said. “Everybody on the Council pays into the checkoff, everyone has skin in the game. We don’t want to see resources squandered and we want to see good, quality research results for the farmers of this state.”
Durham summarizes it that MSMC and the research committee are working to ensure the best for all Missouri soybean farmers, just as he – and so many other farmerss – compare varieties, management practices and other variables to find the best options for their farms each year.
“Research is such a valuable component as we look to the future and as we build on the knowledge base that we have now so that we can better understand this plant that is the number one cash crop in the state of Missouri.”
View the rest of this issue in the magazine here.