Getting hands-on with soy.

Spend some time in The Center for Soy Innovation and you just might start to believe the magic beans in “Jack and the Beanstalk” are actually soybeans. 

Soybeans permeate our lives in many ways. Not only are they a nutritional powerhouse for humans and animals, but soybeans also transform into many products seen in everyday life, such as fuel, candles, crayons, ink, furniture, flooring, carpet, and paint. CFSI wanted to demonstrate just how versatile soy products are and has incorporated many of these incredible products into their own building materials, from soy-based countertops, flooring, and insulation to turf, asphalt sealant, and even a furnace that runs on biodiesel using soy. 

“Education, collaboration, and incubation. These three concepts bring innovation,” says Gary Wheeler, CEO and executive director of the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, and the Foundation for Soy Innovation.

“Education, collaboration, and incubation. These three concepts bring innovation.”

– Gary Wheeler

Education is front and center in the CFSI building, with hands-on educational tools including a food-focused activity table, a spinning “wall of knowledge,” a fuel pump, showcases of current products, and artificial soybean plants that display growth stages of the crop. There is also a classroom to host school groups, workshops, hands-on learning, and events.

When pressed on which soy product is a favorite, Wheeler admits it is the turf, SynLawn, because the product is everywhere in the sports world. Grown for football, soccer, and even baseball fields, this soy product is a favorite for sports fans. You can see this product in the CFSI walkway or at the putting green inside.

At one point in time in Missouri, farming practices were common knowledge, but today, many young people see farming as a mystery. One of the CFSI programs, Ag Education on the Move, focuses on students in the third grade as a way to connect with future generations and educate the public on current practices.

The spirit of collaboration is strong, with many different partners housed in the CFSI building, including the staff from the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, the Foundation for Soy Innovation and partners including the Biodiesel Coalition of Missouri, Missouri Farmers Care, Paseo Biofuels, and Mid-America Biofuels. This collaboration is what has made soybean farmers successful since the inception of the Missouri Soybean Association in 1966.

One of the first success stories was that of biodiesel, an industry that was founded in Missouri. Originally, the oil from soybeans was considered sludge, but through innovation and collaboration, biodiesel was formed and has become a viable and profitable product. The latest innovation, SOYLEIC, is a non-GMO high oleic (fatty acid) trait technology that gives soybean oil greater potential for withstanding high temperatures in baking and frying without producing trans fats.

The land that CFSI is housed on has some roots in agriculture. The nearly 5-acre tract, purchased from the Stockman family, was once home to a railroad spur and an anhydrous ammonia plant (anhydrous ammonia is the foundation for nitrogen fertilizer). It is especially endearing when you see the little white building on the property, which houses the original pump house as a nod to its history.

Conservation also plays into the overall design of CFSI. There is a bioretention basin in the back of the property, a water quality monitoring station, and a nature area with over 900 native plants and a walking trail. The nature area is even home to a colony of bees that are maintained by the Missouri State Beekeepers Association. These features educate visitors on the relationship between pollinators and soybeans. 

This focus on conservation aligns with farmers’ values.

“Farmers are the first conservationists,” Gary says. “They will always want to protect their families and their business and leave a legacy that is better than what they received.”

Gary’s main objective has always been to serve farmers. He began his journey at the age of 11, picking cotton in southeast Missouri. Farming runs in the family. His grandparents were sharecroppers, and his parents retired from farming.

The economic health of Missouri and Missouri farmers depends on soybean crops. According to the University of Missouri Extension, soybeans are Missouri’s No. 1 crop in both number of acres and value. Each year, more than 5 million acres of Missouri farmland are planted with soybeans. That is more than the total acreage for other grain, fiber, and vegetable crops combined.

The annual farm value of the soybean crop for Missouri is $2.5 billion. With that kind of impact, it’s no wonder soybean farmers have collaborated to create CFSI.

“Farmers are immensely proud of the building and the idea,” Gary says. “They built this to educate and take the industry into the next 30 years. Farmers put their money where their mouths are.”

Technology, of course, has a place in innovation. Technology in the soy industry has been tied to sustainability for farmers. They use drones and GPS for aerial imagery, keeping rows straight, utilizing space to its fullest capacity, and monitoring water levels. On equipment, monitoring systems help measure fuel and tractor efficiencies, while mapping tools show amounts harvested and how to use water minimally.

“Farmers are immensely proud of the building and the idea. They built this to educate and take the industry into the next 30 years.” 

– Gary Wheeler

Looking to the future, Gary says that the land next to CFSI will house a new building that will showcase the historic perspective of soybean farming via equipment and technologies. Curating ideas in education and spreading that education throughout the Midwest will be CFSI’s focus going forward. Wheeler is most proud about incorporating education on the soybean’s global impact on the world as a food source for many humans and animals.

Wheeler is also quick to point out that the success of the organization is because of the commitment of farmers and its outstanding staff.

It may not be magic, but it’s amazing how the soybean reaches our daily lives, our state, and the world.