Checkoff Check-In: A Deeper Look at the Ohio Soybean Council

Research being done at Airable Research Lab

The Ohio Soybean Council is the state’s official Qualified State Soybean Board that plays a crucial role in supporting Ohio’s soybean farmers. Ohio Soybean Council represents the interests and needs of the state’s soybean industry within the framework of the national soy checkoff program.

We asked Kirk Meritt, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Council, a few questions to provide readers an update of what they are working on, upcoming priorities and recent successes. The Ohio Soybean Council is governed by a volunteer farmer board which directs the Soybean Promotion and Research Program, whose goal is to improve the profitability of soybean farmers by targeting research and development, marketing, promotion and educational projects through the investment of farmer-contributed funds.

What are some of the top priorities in the upcoming year for the Ohio Soybean Council?

Our mission is to help farmers increase profitability, and we see many opportunities for us to do that now and in the future.

  • We are expanding markets for Ohio soy by building demand for soy-based biodiesel and other soy products, supporting livestock producers and diversifying our export markets.
  • We are driving innovation through product research and commercialization activities at the Airable Research Lab and our plant research partnerships with the team at the Soybean Research Center at The Ohio State University.
  • We are building understanding of soybeans and Ohio agriculture through communication initiatives with Ohio farmers and consumers and our extensive K-12 education program, called GrowNextGen.

Our board members are always thinking about the future and how we can help farmers identify and capitalize on new opportunities.

Discuss some of the research the Ohio Soybean Council is doing to help farmers.

On the plant research side, one of our key projects is a partnership with The Ohio State University and other state soybean groups in the fight against soybean cyst nematode. Soybean cyst nematode is responsible for yield losses in Ohio and many other states, and the Ohio Soybean Council works with Ohio State to provide Ohio farmers with tools to identify and evaluate their fields and then address any issues. On the product research side, we are excited about the great opportunities we are finding through the work of our team at Airable Research Lab.

What investments is the Ohio Soybean Council pursuing that get state farmer-leaders excited?

The board is excited about many initiatives, including the Midwest Soybean Collaborative. This partnership is focused on innovative thinking and programming on issues having the most significant impact on the future success of soybean farmers in the Midwest. We also work with our partners in other states to identify key topics and conduct research and analysis on competitiveness challenges to ensure that Midwest soybean farmers are positioned for long-term success.

What makes the Ohio Soybean Council unique?

Our board sees great value in investing in research to discover and commercialize new uses for soybeans. That work started through a partnership with Battelle Memorial Institute, and that partnership grew over the years until we saw the opportunity to start our own research lab. We are the only state soybean checkoff organization with its own lab for new uses research. We started Airable Research Lab in 2019 in existing lab space on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. Several other state checkoff groups have also seen value in partnering with us, and they provide funding to Airable Research Lab for projects.

We were able to speak with Barry McGraw, founder and chief laboratory officer at Airable Research Lab. The lab was founded in 1991 by the Ohio Soybean Council and is now joined by the Iowa Soybean Association, Illinois Soybean Association, Missouri Soybeans, Michigan Soybean Committee and Kentucky Soybean.

What makes Airable Research Lab special?

With a separate farmer-led board, Airable Research Lab wanted to show that there was a new way to develop soy-based products. Rather than develop a product and try to market it to customers, we made a concerted effort to work with companies looking for a solution to a problem and develop a product that solved their problem. We wanted to reverse-engineer the process, so to speak.

Working with Airable Research Lab has several advantages for companies looking to solve a manufacturing problem. These benefits include:

  • Reducing upfront risk of R&D investments for companies.
  • Allowing companies to tap into soy R&D ideas and/or proof-of-principle data.
  • Providing capabilities to assist industry in achieving their sustainability goals.
  • Providing knowledge and/or resources to use soybean products to achieve commercial companies’ sustainability goals.
  • Capitalizing on a bright future for the biobased chemical industry.

Information on Airable Research Lab successes can be found on their website.

Kirk, one last question — how does your state work in partnership with the national soy checkoff, and what value does USB bring to your state?

We work with USB on many projects and initiatives, all of which drive significant value to Ohio soybean farmers. For example, we work together on plant research projects like the soybean cyst nematode initiative, and we partner with USB on programs to help farmers implement best practices for nutrient management.

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