Soy Innovation & Sustainability

By: Christine Tew

Bringing soybean farmers’ work through their checkoff to life at the Center for Soy Innovation has been a top priority throughout the development process. During the Center’s grand opening, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council chairman Robert Alpers of Prairie Home shared that the Center is the answer to ‘Who and What’ the Merchandising Council will be to farmers for many years to come.

When work is complete at the Center for Soy Innovation, the biobasin and backslope will have more than a dozen native species and about 1400 plantings for visitors to explore, along with a water quality monitoring station. A mulched walking trail and benches will serve tour groups and individual visitors.

The commitment to education and hands-on learning goes beyond the Center for Soy Innovation’s walls. Sustainability is a key part of that, and with the new plantings and educational area at the Center, the Council is growing the footprint of its environmental stewardship program. In addition to the indoor showcase and activities, the Center has outdoor spaces for visitors to explore.

The Center is situated on nearly five acres, nearly all of which is dedicated to native plantings, pollinators and demonstration areas highlighting soil health and water quality.

Behind the Center, a series of terraces create a biobasin – the centerpiece
for conversations about erosion, sediment and other recognized on-farm challenges. Missouri Soybean’s staff volunteered to assist with finishing out the area with plantings of native species.

Staff volunteered to assist with plantings this spring. These American Hazelnut shrubs were planted near the bottom of the backslope.

“On our first day, we planted about 600 container grown plants in the biobasin area,” said Darrick Steen, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council’s director of environmental programs. “On the second day, we planted about 300 container grown plants and shrubs to create a landscape buffer.”

Just past that landscape buffer and the property line is a steep grade toward a creek – making this work and conversations about managing runoff especially fitting.

At the bottom of that backslope, a water quality monitoring station has been installed.

With slopes ranging from 10 to 30 percent on the property, minimizing soil loss from erosion is especially important. And in line with a challenge farmers might face on their land across Missouri’s varied topography.

The water quality monitoring station allows staff and researchers to collect stormwater runoff samples after treatment by the biobasin, allowing measurements of sediment and other contaminants in the runoff – showing the effectiveness of the biobasin and native plant species.

A water quality monitoring station at the base of the slope allows researchers to measure the effectiveness of sustainability practices on the property.

The project also has a third planting phase yet to come, according to Steen.

“We also have about 500 bareroot seedlings to plant on the backslope of the basin.”

A mulched walking path and series of benches are also going in, installed by Boulder Creek Landscaping of Jefferson City, to make exploring the demonstration area more comfortable for visitors to the Center for Soy Innovation, including landowner and student groups.

The Missouri Department of Conservation was instrumental in the design and implementation of the vision for this area. In addition to a grant
that went toward materials, including plants, the Department’s community conservation planner, Ronda Burnett, provided the landscape design.

“Each native plant included in the design was selected based on a service it will provide,” Burnett said. “The resulting working landscape will not only benefit natural resources, but it will also become a showplace for the cultural benefits people obtain from ecosystems including reflection, recreation, social relations that lead to partnership- and community-building, and an enhanced sense of place as visitors experience the unique beauty of Missouri.”

The Department’s agriculture liaison, Brent Vandeloecht, oversaw the partnership and the project.

“This is an opportunity to show landowners how steep grades, terraces and other areas that can be challenging to farm, play an important role in conservation and provide much-needed habitat,” Vandeloecht said. “Incorporating soil health, native plantings and attention to water quality into the design at the Center for Soy Innovation creates a lot of educational value. It’s a great partnership, and we’re glad to be part of creating the hands-on demonstration.”

Missouri’s Finest

The plants for the design all come from Missouri-based nurseries.

Missouri Wildflowers Nursery, located just south of Jefferson City, was the source for the largest number of plants. Hazelnut and Indiangrass plants
came from Forrest Keeling Nursery in Elsberry, and the Fragrant Sumac came from both Missouri Wildflowers Nursery and the George O. White State Forest Nursery in Licking.

The Missouri Department of Conservation’s partnership really helped with the selections and sourcing, Steen said. The George O. White State Forest Nursery is operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Plant species selected for the Center for Soy Innovation backslope and biobasin include:
• Corylus americana – Hazelnut
• Silphium laciniatum – Compass Plant • Sorghastrum Nutans – Indiangrass
• Liatris pycnostachya – Prairie Blazing Star
• Rhus aromatica – Fragrant Sumac
• Ceanothus americanus – New Jersey Tea
• Carex crinite – Fringed Sedge
• Carex muskingumensis – Palm Sedge
• Juncus effuses – Soft Rush
• Panicum virgatum – Switchgrass
• Spartina pectinate – Prairie Cord Grass
• Asclepias incarnata – Swamp Milkweed
• Lobelia siphilitica – Blue Lobelia
• Andropogon gerardii – Big Bluestem

Putting Mission into Action

The Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council was an early member of Missourians for Monarchs, a coalition of conservation and agricultural organizations committed to pollinators. Established about five years ago, the group set a goal for creating and maintaining 19,000 acres of pollinator habitat annually – for 20 years.

The plantings, and their designation as a demonstration area, at the Center for Soy Innovation are part of that goal. They join the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council’s pollinator areas at the Missouri Soybean Association’s Bay Farm Research Facility.

The Council partnered with the Missouri Department of Conservation on those pollinator plots as well.

Beyond using native plants to support pollinators, this effort supports the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council’s overall strategic plan for investing farmers’ soybean checkoff dollars in Missouri through addressing on-farm challenges like water quality and soil management. The area also provides for educational demonstrations for visitors of all ages, which is a key component of the organization’s environmental stewardship efforts.

Bringing the project to life took almost two years, from breaking ground summer 2018 to plantings and trail construction in 2020.

The area will continue to evolve, supporting new species and conversations as the plantings mature – and encouraging repeat visits from farmers, youth, partners across agriculture and the local community.

To learn more about Missouri’s soybean organizations and the Center for Soy Innovation, and to schedule your tour of the new Center, visit

Find the entire June issue here.