URBANA, Ill. — Researchers continue to find new uses for soybean-based products, creating increased demand through expanding markets, and farmers play a key role in those efforts.

“The soybean farmers really deserve a lot of credit because they are very forward-thinking,” said Bridget Owen, National Soybean Research Laboratory associate director. “I’m always very impressed with their ability to look out far into the future and look at ways to address global protein needs through their products.”

The NSRL develops innovative processing and marketing techniques for soybeans, including promoting the health benefits of including soy in diets, as well as researching production issues.

The NSRL partners with the International Soybean Program, headquartered at the NSRL, to develop soybean processing and utilization technologies appropriate for developing countries to promote soy-based products.

The NRSL also works closely with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, an American Soybean Association program that brings the benefits of U.S. soy protein to developing countries.

Owen was among the speakers at the “Processing and Marketing Soybeans for Meat, Dairy, Baking and Snack Applications” course hosted by the INTSOY at the National Soybean Research Center on the University of Illinois campus.

“The cool thing about soy is it can be utilized in all of these different applications, but it’s also an incredible nutritional application for animal production,” she said. “When we look around the world at poultry, pork, beef and dairy production and also the growing fish production, soy is really center to providing that nutrition.

“Whether that’s soybean meal, but also in many of these new formulations, you’re also using soybean oil and in some of those applications soy protein concentrates, and even some of the isolates can play a role, too.

“The farmers have looked at that and have seen that investing in these areas with research and market development plays a really important role, whether that’s human nutrition, animal nutrition and also the industrial work that they’ve supported.”

One example of farmers’ efforts to improve their product for the end-user and, in turn, keep locally-grown soybeans competitive, is the Illinois Soybean Association’s initiative to achieve optimum levels of protein and oil.

Illinois soybean oil content currently ranges from 17 percent to 21 percent, while protein content ranges from 31 percent to 38 percent statewide.

The ISA has set a goal of at least 19 percent oil and 35 percent protein for the soybean content, a goal that can be achieved through variety selection.

“That is an area that needs to be commended. They recognize that the value of those soybeans they produce comes from the various applications,” Owen said.

“The consumers of our soybeans in Illinois and across the United States are looking for soybeans that are going to deliver them good, quality protein, and that means good, quality digestible amino acids and high quality oil that can be utilized for the various applications that we need.

“ISA has done a very good job of looking at how they can address that, how can farmers play an important role in that value chain and how can research play an important role in it and unlocking even the further potential of our crop.”

Soybean production combined with extensive research to find new uses to feed a growing world is a win-win for all involved, she said.