June 27, 2007

Illinois Soybean Center: New name, same mission

by K.C. Jaehnig


CARBONDALE, Ill. — The College of Agricultural Science's Center of Excellence for Soybean Research, Teaching and Outreach at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is now simply the Illinois Soybean Center.

Its mission, however, remains the same: to make soybeans a better crop, easier and more profitable to grow, and more widely used in the region, the nation and the world. Research and training will not only help it meet its goals but add to scientific knowledge while providing the professionals of tomorrow.

The college established its "center without walls" in 1997 with the idea of drawing on faculty members throughout the University who had the interest and knowledge needed to meet new and growing demands for soybean production. It identified health and nutrition; crop improvement, production and protection; biotechnology and genomics; environmental sustainability; technology transfer; and education as key areas where SIUC expertise could make a difference.

Those working in the center set up an organizational structure, commissioned a logo, put out some brochures, hired a plant pathologist and embarked on some initial projects, but the expected $500,000 budget that would allow them to do more never materialized.

The center didn't begin to work as envisioned until 2005, when the Illinois Soybean Board, using Checkoff dollars, gave SIUC $500,000 in an endowed fund to move the center forward.

"We now have proceeds from that endowed fund plus an annual match from the chancellor's office, which gives us a functional center," said John S. Russin, the college associate dean for research and acting director of the soybean center.

Three faculty members, three department chairs and three members from the Illinois Soybean Association make up the advisory board, which met early in 2007 to help Russin determine the center's initial priorities and activities and devise ways in which to accomplish them.

The first thing the group did was develop a simple, succinct name that focused on what the center was all about. It also began looking at retooling the Web site to add new information, "downloadables," links and the like, meanwhile searching for residual funding to cover small incidental costs such as travel expenses for the advisory board and publications.

Here's a brief summary of where the center is heading.

• A regular column on emerging issues in the soybean world, whose authorship will rotate among the different board members, will appear in FarmWeek, a weekly newspaper published by the Illinois Farm Bureau.

• The center will join the University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in sponsoring an annual lecture on some aspect of soy policy. The inaugural lecture will feature a prominent national, if not global, expert. The college's Gilbert and Jean Kroening Lecture Series also will sponsor this lecture.

• The center will look for ways to join with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, a non-profit organization that trains food processors in 23 developing countries and works to improve health and nutrition there by promoting soy-fortified foods.

• The center will work with area public schools, doctors and agencies to provide education on obesity, diabetes, the benefits of soy foods and other health-related topics.

• The center will offer small, competitive grants each year to faculty, funneling the strongest of the more extensive proposals on to the Illinois Soybean Association for consideration. This year, the center made an award to Sharon L. Peterson from the Department of Animal Science, Food and Nutrition for a community nutrition project (in line with the objective immediately previous) and teamed up with the association to fund proposals from Jason P. Bond and Ahmad M. Fakhoury of the Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems for soybean disease detection and management.

"We essentially tripled the amount of proposals we were able to fund because the association liked those two and picked them up," Russin said.

"It's an example of leveraging limited resources by partnering with stakeholders."