From the farm field to the ball field: Soybean oil used in DSU’s new artificial turf soccer field

July 10, 2023

When Dakota State University Football kicks off this fall, they’ll be playing on a bean field.

This spring the school in Madison, South Dakota, installed artificial turf with a backing made from soybean oil on the first of two of its sports fields, and school officials say they’re happy to give a nod to South Dakota farmers while offering some major improvements for their players.

“We have a great relationship with the ag people in our area. This was a very fortunate way for us to support the industry more,” DSU athletic director Jeff Dittman said.

The first big football game on the new field will be the eighth annual Ag Bowl, set for Aug. 31 against the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In a celebration of agriculture, local producers get free tickets to the game and tailgate meal.

The next night, Madison High School will open their football season on the turf.

“It’s very exciting to see the crops that we raise locally turn into useful products - from soybean turf to other products like tires, to soles on shoes,” said Terry Schultz.

As CEO of Mustang Seeds, headquartered in Madison, and an industry representative on the South Dakota Soybean Association board, Schultz planted the idea of opting for a soy-based product for the field and helped in the fundraising efforts.

“All of these different forms of soybean-based products help promote soybeans to the general consumer,” he said.

Soy-based turf isn’t exactly new, but it is seeing a resurgence, according to Brock Wilson of Mid-America Golf and Landscape who did the installation at DSU. From golf greens and rooftop gardens to Central Park and road medians, the soy-based turf has been used in many places, including about 30 sports fields in the Midwest.

Made in Dalton, Georgia, AstroTurf is the only company that makes turf products with renewable soybean oil. The soy-based backing and all the turf components are made in the U.S. Midwest Golf is a distributor.

“We work where a large part of soybean growers are found,” Wilson said. “We’re able to use a product of the plentiful industry around there.”

The recently installed AstroTurf in Madison is the first of two fields that will be covered in the soy-based turf. It will eventually be home to DSU’s new soccer program. The second AstroTurf field will be ready next fall when the football team moves into its new stadium.

Dakota State University is in the midst of a major, $100 million upgrade of its athletic complex.

The first phase includes the new track and soccer field, replacing Trojan football stadium, as well as an upgraded esports arena, locker, weight and training rooms, gathering areas, classrooms and a biomechanics lab. The larger plan includes an arena for basketball and volleyball, an indoor track, and new turf baseball and softball fields.

Dittman, the athletic director, sees the improvements as a major recruiting tool. That includes the artificial turf, which some high schoolers grew up competing on.

He likes that the soy turf field can handle heavy use. Trojan athletes weren’t allowed to practice on their grass competition field in an effort to keep it in tip-top shape for games. Now the soy turf can host high school and freshman games as well as practices. The first program to use DSU’s new turf will be a football camp for high school athletes in late July.

“You can use it as much as you want,” Dittman said. “There are some big advantages.”

The grass field had to be watered, mowed and babied through the season. It would start out looking great in August, Dittman said, but by the end of the year, it looked rough. It was an aesthetic issue as well as a safety issue, he said.

The turf field won’t require as much maintenance. Field markings and yard lines don’t have to be repainted before each game, and the Trojan logo at center field will stay a vibrant blue.

“It looks fantastic,” Dittman said.

By Janelle Atyeo

Published in the 2023 Summer South Dakota Soybean Leader Magazine