Ingenuity By The Bushel: Product Innovation Boosts Soybean Demand
Market demand for soybeans has, historically speaking, benefitted immensely from the meal side of the equation. This is largely due to the role soy meal plays within livestock nutrition programs. Ninety-seven percent of soy meal produced in the U.S. is utilized in animal feed, sustaining the animal agriculture industry here at home while supporting the growth of livestock production around the world. To that end, farmers have funded research efforts through their checkoff to enhance feed processing and demonstrate the value of soy meal in livestock nutrition programs.
Soybean oil is on the up-and-up
That narrative has expanded in recent years to increasingly derive value from soybean oil and its diverse industrial applications. Biofuels — including biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) — represent the most promising source of demand for soybean oil. However, there are more than 1,000 commercial products that utilize soybean oil, and that number continues to grow.
“We have to keep exploring new opportunities,” says David Iverson, District 4 Director and Vice Chairman for the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. “Finding new ways that we can utilize more of our soybeans is extremely important.”
Iverson farms near Astoria, South Dakota, and has served on the state’s soybean checkoff board for the past decade. He has witnessed countless new soy-based products go to market during that tenure, including:
- SYNLawn artificial turf, which now covers athletic fields at South Dakota State University and Dakota State University
- Tires produced by Goodyear, which are used by the South Dakota Highway Patrol and more than 50 sheriff’s offices across the state
- Skechers shoe soles, manufactured in partnership with Goodyear, that now provide the foundation for more than 70 products in the company’s portfolio
- Asphalt and concrete sealants designed to extend the life of concrete roads, bridges and parking lot surfaces
Iverson is quick to point out that those successes don’t happen without sufficient investment of time, money and resources. “I think that's why I'm such a strong proponent of continuing research — and to have a variety of research — to create new products,” says Iverson.
New POET Bioproducts Center gives soy innovation a boost
The new POET Bioproducts Center that opened in Fall 2023 marks a significant step toward that objective. South Dakota soybean farmers have committed $2.5 million over the next five years through their checkoff to support this endeavor, which can be described as a public-private collaboration between South Dakota State University, South Dakota School of Mines and POET.
“There's enormous potential in the state for harnessing the movement toward bio-based manufacturing,” says David Salem, a South Dakota Mines professor who directs two composite materials research centers in Rapid City. He has been instrumental in the development of the POET Bioproducts Center and views its opening with tremendous optimism. “We are very well-positioned to be a leader within the bio-based manufacturing economy,” he says.
What distinguishes the POET Bioproducts Center from other university-based research happening in-state is its approach to partnering with private industry. The overarching goal of the center is not just to develop new uses for agricultural products, but rather to scale them in order to bring them to market.
Salem describes this as an “innovation pipeline” that invites corporations and business start-ups to develop bio-based products that will be commercially feasible. The center will be managed by Dakota BioWorx, a nonprofit organization formed to help facilitate the partnership between public and private entities utilizing the space.
“The POET Bioproducts Center will be a great place for [companies] to ramp up their production and see if this is a viable business model,” says Iverson. “I think that will be a long-term benefit to soybean farmers within the state.”
Soy uses promote sustainability narrative
What is particularly exciting about many of these new product developments is how the use of soybeans reduces our reliance on petroleum. Soybeans are a renewable resource abundantly available right here in South Dakota, and their integral role in commercial products ranging from tires to sealants to bio-based plastics helps reinforce soybean farmers’ sustainability narrative.
Iverson believes this will help soybeans in a market environment where sustainability is increasingly important to both businesses and consumers. “We have a lot of farmers who are very conscientious as to how they produce their crops,” says Iverson, noting that this is a critical first step in making the case for sustainable ag practices. But being able to close the loop with a strong portfolio of end uses is equally important. “In the last few years, we've expanded a lot of use for soybean oil to displace petroleum,” says Iverson. “That is also helpful.”
Learn more about new soy uses
Checkoff-funded research efforts are continually developing new uses for soybeans and other agricultural products. To stay up to date on new commercial and industrial applications for soy-based products, please visit sdsoybean.org or contact your local district director for the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.