Minnesota Soybean Business

SROC is rollin’: A closer look at MN ag’s hidden gem

January-February 2024

Driving east on old Highway 14 into Waseca, it’s hard to miss the big sign for the Southern Research and Outreach Center (SROC).

This location opened in 1912 and has continued to produce research that impacts soybean growers across Minnesota.

“SROC is the best place for (the soy checkoff) to access the resources and technology for Minnesota soybean production and industry,” said Senyu Chen, a University of Minnesota (UMN) researcher based at SROC.

The Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) has used soybean checkoff funds to support various researchers and projects at SROC. Currently, there are at least eight ongoing research projects sponsored by MSR&PC at SROC. “I think it’s an undervalued resource by everybody, it’s undervalued at the University and it’s undervalued by our stakeholders,” University of Minnesota Professor and Extension Agronomist Dr. Seth Naeve said. “We need to take advantage of things, and I think there’s so much more potential.”

Checkoff funding to SROC dates back to the beginning of Minnesota’s half-cent checkoff in 1967. SROC’s soybean breeding program was one of the first projects MSR&PC funded with checkoff resources. In sum, SROC has compiled data and research that benefits soybean growers for more than a century.

“It’s one of the mechanisms we have that provides valid information to the growers,” MSR&PC Research Director David Kee said of SROC. “By itself, it’s just another station, but when you put all the stations together, we now have information on how geographic regions are impacted.” Kee went on to say that there are always a set of 30 studies at SROC that MSR&PC funds in a year. Innovative, basic and applied research is conducted in agriculture production, human health, renewable energy and the environment at SROC.

“We couldn’t do the work without the funds,” Naeve said of the soybean checkoff support. “There aren’t funds to do the work otherwise. Anything that we want to do in terms of directly helping soybean growers really requires the investment of the farmers themselves. It’s critical, but the good part is that the farmers are actively involved in choosing the projects that they fund.”

SROC is one of 10 research and outreach centers around the state conducting innovative basic and applied research in the areas of agricultural production, human health, renewable energy and the environment. It is committed to contributing to sustained social and economic development, the wise use of natural resources and an enhanced quality of life in communities across Minnesota and around the world.

“It’s important for us to have locations across the state where our university researchers can do trials,” said Mike Youngerberg, MSR&PC senior director of product development & commercialization. “They’re necessary to spread the research across the various climate and conditions that happen locally. People want their information local; having that local research that you can compare to what’s on your farm is important.”

‘Forging new paths’

Naeve and other researchers have projects at SROC that are also being conducted at other sites across the state. Working multiple locations allow the experiment to be relevant to a vast majority of Minnesota. Naeve mentioned the importance of the research and outreach centers (ROC) that Minnesota has. In the past, the ROCs were well supported, but over the years – due to industry changes – it has reduced the connection farmers have directly with the ROCs.

“Very few states have really good research centers like we have,” Naeve said. “It’s important for farmers to recognize that it’s an important resource, but they need to continue to support (UMN) and these things because they can’t take it for granted, because once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Naeve currently is working on two projects at SROC. One is a study of planting dates by maturity and the other is dealing with desiccating soybeans and harvest aids. UMN soybean breeder Aaron Lorenz is working on three MSR&PC-funded projects at SROC. Those projects include a soybean breeding study; research on soybean cyst nematode resistance; and breeding for high oil content in soybeans.

“SROC has been a really fantastic location,” Lorenz said. “It has really rich soils, heavy soils that have been worked and usually we can really get yields there. And the proximity to the St. Paul campus is very nice. So that’s really nice – a lot of researchers like SROC for that reason. And it’s the staff, the staff that we work with at SROC, are really amazing people to work with.”

One of the products to come out of checkoff funding to SROC is Plasma Blue, which began about eight years ago.

“My most direct involvement with SROC was when Plasma Blue started,” former MSR&PC chair Keith Schrader said. “We went over there and watched this thing when it was just a little desktop experiment and then we started allocating some money for that.”

This is a checkoff-supported project developed by SROC Researcher Shaobo Deng. It creates biodiesel at a dramatically lower production cost, using a new energy source, while integrating easily into all biodiesel plants, as well as ethanol plants. The SROC location in Waseca allowed for the creation of this project that will benefit more than just Minnesota soybean growers.

“The soybean checkoff investments in SROC are showing the unique ways in which ag is forging new paths,” said MSR&PC CEO Tom Slunecka, who sits on SROC’s board. “Plasma Blue is a perfect example of the checkoff innovations coming out of SROC.”


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