The new-uses-for-soybeans pot keeps bubbling faster. And bushel-gobbling industrial-use projects are coming on stream - with more to follow.
Several intriguing projects, some developed by university science students with support from state checkoff funds, have hit the market with fanfare.
They include: soybean oil-based coloring crayons, ski wax, and Harvest Lights candles. All offer competitive prices and performance, plus environmental advantages over traditional petroleum-based products. Together, these specialty-item new uses will consume millions of bushels of soybeans.
But United Soybean Board (USB) farmer leaders are searching hard for industrial uses that will use up the production from millions of acres through sales of value-added soy-based products in the U.S. and foreign countries. They want home runs that will noticeably shove soybean prices higher nationally - and keep them there.
Already, 13 checkoff-funded new-uses products/applications have reached commercialization. Several are expected to cross that bridge this year and many more by USB's target date of 2005 (see table).
Not all of these research projects - as is the case in research of all kinds - end up as home runs. In baseball language, some do manage to become singles, doubles and triples. And some turn out to be strikeouts, admit USB new-uses program leaders and the scientists working with them.
"We need to analyze all aspects of a market segment, product and application to determine potential usage, trends, competition and barriers," explains last year's USB new-uses chair Gary Parker of Moran, KS.
"Following this analysis, we can select target markets, research can be directed, and priorities can be set. It's no easy task."
Despite the challenges, the quest is necessary and will very likely produce some worthwhile rewards, say USB farmer leaders.
"I was a commodity broker for about 18 years," says Gene Lewis, Hardinsburg, IN, farmer and USB's new-uses chair for '99. "I watched the screen while commodities traded back and forth every day. And all the time I thought, we are dealing with a commodity in soybeans that is worth quite a bit more money than we are getting.
"All you have to do is look at all the uses it has and what it means to our society," Lewis adds. "I always said if I ever get a chance to do something about it, I was going to make the commitment, and here I am on USB's new-uses committee."
One recently commercialized new-uses project appears to be scoring well already. The Robertson Corp. at Brownstown, IN, has four adhesive extenders and additive products for plywood construction. These products can replace a portion of the petroleum-based resins used to adhere plywood layers.
Another checkoff-funded new- uses project to produce all-vegetable motor oil is coming on stream in Michigan. Called the Michigan Model, it's a joint venture scheduled for Michigan's Thumb Region. The oil, called Bio 25/35, will be made from a blend of canola and soybean oils.
In a USB-sponsored study by Renewable Lubricants, Inc. (RLI) in Ohio, researchers found soy-based, biodegradable motor oil can be a cost-effective alternative to existing lubricants.
"Formulations of soybean-oil lubricants passed our tests with good results," says Bill Garmier, RLI spokesman.
Also, a new premium diesel fuel additive made from soybean oil has hit the U.S. market. The product is called SoyShield. The St. Louis-based Schaeffer's Specialized Lubricants produces and markets it.
These are just a few new-use projects that already are or soon will be eating away at U.S. soybean supplies. The commercialized products apparently are starting to have an impact.
U.S. Department of Commerce figures show soy utilization in industrial uses had remained flat at about 30 million bushels per year from 1989 through 1996. But in 1997, 37 million bushels of soybeans were used in industrial products and applications. And industrialization was on pace last fall to exceed 47 million bushels in 1998.
Read the details of new projects and products in the stories that follow.