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SIUC researchers fight as the Illinois Soybean Association moves away from universities

At just 50 cents for every $ 100 sold, these soy "check" funds, as they are know, they do not sound too much, but since 1970.

. In the past, verification money supported researchers such as Khalid Meksem of the Department of Plants, Soil Science and Carbondale Agricultural Systems at the University of Southern Illinois.

Since joining the university in 2000, Meksem has received multiple patents for his work identifying plague-resistant genes in soybeans and potatoes, and has been published three times in "Nature," the most cited scientific journal in planet.

Despite that success, he is struggling to obtain funds to continue research in his laboratory.

"Last year I received funds at a level of $ 160,000," Meksem said in soy control funds. . "This year, $ 0."

The verification funds are divided among the state, regional and national soy boards, each of which disburses its share of the money, as it believes it will better help the farmers it represents to maximize value.

In Illinois, the Illinois Soybean Association is governed by 24 volunteer farmers elected from across the state, who allocate the verification dollars, approximately $ 12 million last year, according to President Lynn Rohrscheib.

In recent years, the ISA has cut funding for university research to focus on other priorities.

"The board as a whole decided to change the way it invested," Rohrscheib said. ISA's farmer leaders felt that the donors of the private industry, the chemical and seed companies, and the United States Soy Board, the national organization that allocate 50 percent of all the money from the verification of the soybean, could "have more impact [on research] than we do with our annual funds," Rohrscheib said.

But as the ISA turns to other priorities, such as opening new foreign markets to Illinois soybeans and advocating for improvements to Illinois roads and waterways, researchers like Meksem face a shortage of funds that undermines their work.

In 2008, Meksem's colleague, Professor Stella Kantartzi, was hired to run the Soy Genetics and Breeding Program of SIU Carbondale, with financial assistance from the ISA.

He started with an ISA budget of approximately $ 170,000 a year, which he used to establish his laboratory, and began research that has led to more than 60 publications and the development of several patented soy varieties, bred for traits such as yield and resistance to disease.

At that time, it was common for ISA to fund start-up packages for the faculty with which they wanted to work, said Dr. Karen Jones, who chairs the Kantartzi department at SIUC. That is part of the reason why Meksem, Kantartzi and other researchers came to SIU in the first place.

But for 2011, Kantartzi's support was reduced to half its 2008 level.

Then, in 2013, "Without prior notice, without even a thank you for our years of collaboration, we were alone," said Kantartzi, penniless from ISA funding ever since.

"I felt that I was fully supported by ISA, and I needed that support and annual communication with the farmers," said Kantartzi, to continue with his work. "Now, we feel quite isolated."

Each soy scientist has been affected differently by the ISA's move away from direct funding for university research, said Jason Bond, professor of plant pathology at SIUC.

"Today, I'm a better researcher for this," Bond said.

Bond and a colleague adjusted their research to seek support from the North Central Soybean Research Program, which distributes verification dollars to much of the "Midwest, and the United Soybean Board nationally.

To win the support of these organizations, "it is necessary to have an investigation that is important for the Illinois producer and for the region in general," Bond said. "We observed projects that could involve other universities, and we created teams in all the states. That was the result of ISA choosing to put resources in other areas. "

Bond has seen his ISA losses replaced by an influx of support from the regional and national boards, which are also funded by the US dollars. Illinois verification.

"Today my funding looks different, but it did not destroy my program," Bond said.

Since losing his ISA funding, Meksem has been able to get some money from the USB But that funding is becoming more competitive, as federal support for university research declines.

"The National Science Foundation is funding less and less and the US Department of Agriculture does not fund almost nothing, "said Meksem, two institutions that previously supported his work." Now he has some of the largest laboratories, big names and well-established researchers, which also apply to the U SB. "

Meksem's lab now competes for funding against the Harvard laboratories, the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose budgets, staff and facilities dwarf theirs at SIUC

He is not upset by this challenge and considers USB a "great partner". But Meksem believes that the Illinois Soybean Association is neglecting the important role it once played, as an incubator for state research.

"I can not apply to the Iowa state board, but any Iowa researcher can apply to the USB.", Whose funds are open to all university labs in the country, Meksem explained. "What the ISA forgets is that the money that Illinois farmers will contribute will be spent in Tennessee, rather than in Illinois."

But soy board leaders say that is exactly the purpose of national and regional soy boards: to support projects that benefit the broader soy industry, through state lines.

"It can not be compared to what USB does," said Rohrscheib, the president chosen by ISA farmers. As a state board, ISA's first responsibility is to maximize value for Illinois farmers.

"We have to be able to work and earn a living," said Rohrscheib.

More than a fund plant "research in genetics, pathology and weed control, in competition with the seed and chemical companies, the ISA is studying other areas of the soy industry, such as" how to improve locks and dams in disarray in The whole state, which could fail at any moment, "Rohrscheib said." From there, we take that information and try to make people aware of the serious need to find dollars at local, state, federal and national level to solve these problems. "

A breakdown of the 2017-2018 spending priorities shows that ISA allocated most of its verification revenue in four areas: Forty-one percent of its budget went to promote soy from Illinois to the industries that buy it, such as biodiesel and animal feed, 24 percent to help farmers adopt new technologies to improve performance and sustain 17 percent to improve transportation efficiency and 16 percent to reach corporate partners and farmers in Illinois.

"We need to help our farmers to be the most informed and profitable in the global marketplace," said Rohrscheib. "We are thinking about new uses for our soy, how to help expand trade and how to be more sustainable with technology."

Recent ISA programs have been praised, including a 2012 project that tests new uses for soy. Fish food based on the name of Time magazine "50 Best Inventions of 2012"

But Meksem said he believes the cuts to academic research will be extremely damaging to Illinois' long-term agriculture.

Traditionally, Meksem's verification funds allowed him to hire 6 university research assistants per year and finance several graduate students, he said. This year, it has been reduced to 3 undergraduate students and 2 graduate students, and Meksem hopes that he will not have money for an undergraduate student next year.

"Instead of increasing our enrollment, we will have to reduce the size," he said. He said. "Our children who come to SIU and the University of Illinois are children who grew up on farms and grow soy on their farms If the ISA is not financing universities, they are not financing their own children and they are not helping them they receive the right education to compete for better jobs, "said Meksem in the agricultural industry.

Nathan Kleczewski, a crop pathologist at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, also sees long-term risks. The ISA moves away from university research.

Kleczewski is an extension specialist. That means your research is guided by direct communication with Illinois soy, corn and wheat producers. They tell him what plant disease problems they face in the field, and he looks for solutions, designing experiments specifically for the climate and soil conditions of Illinois.

"We want projects that address the concerns of farmers quickly," Kleczewski said, with results within three to five years, at most.

Prior to being hired at the U of I, about a year ago Kleczewski held a similar position at the University of Delaware, where he was supported by state funds for soybeans, wheat and other grains.

In 2015, with $ 10,000 from the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, Kleczewski worked with farmers in Maryland and Delaware to predict, prevent and combat a disease called Fusarium Head Blight.

The one-year performance on that project was estimated at nearly $ 5 million in potential production profits, Kleczewski said.

"Applied research can easily result in meaningful and unbiased returns," Kleczewski told the south. But since he was brought to the U of I, he received $ 0 in support of the ISA, despite multiple project proposals.

"I can not get anything for the Board to see", Kleczewski

In many states, boards that administer verification funds arrive annually to formally request research proposals from scientists.

In Illinois, that procedure was phased out about 10 years ago, around the ISA funding of Meksem and Kantartzi began to run out.

The director of ISA, Rohrscheib, stressed that the proposals "are always welcome", but the researchers say they have lost the dialogue they once enjoyed with ISA leaders, which helped them refine their project proposals and finally finance them.

"It is a person who decides whether [a proposal] will be presented" to the board, Kleczewski said. "If they're not interested, people do not see it."

Now, when Illinois farmers have a research question, they can go to "Purdue, Iowa State or the University of Wisconsin," he said. . "But Illinois is not that place, we have different challenges, different climates and different types of soil, the use of your information may work for a while, but it will not work forever."

Kleczewski pointed to an outbreak of tar stain in northern Illinois corn this year as an example of possible consequences.

"We are dealing with an epidemic of corn that was ignored for three years," he said. "We have millions of dollars in losses, only in DeKalb County, and people are scared."

With small compensation investments like those he received in the Northeast, Kleczewski believes that the ISA could create great value for Illinois farmers, with "Impartial data and solutions that the university's Ag programs are in a unique position to provide.

"I do not agree with the idea that ISA funds are not enough to make a difference in university research," Kleczewski said. "We're not talking about millions of dollars here."

A recent project funded by a check at the University of Wisconsin that helps predict outbreaks of white mold is expected to save farmers "millions and millions of dollars," Kleczewski said, with only a few hundred thousand of dollars in investment.

"It would not take much effort to reestablish an effective relationship [with universities] if the ISA simply opened a Request for Requests, and p put a small amount of money to support some programs a year, "Kleczewski said. "But closing everything is not good for our farmers or for the state."

Kleczewski's colleagues at SIU Carbondale also lamented the relationship they lost with the ISA, and agreed that both parties should work to rebuild it.

"We used to have very nice meetings and discuss our problems, projects and ideas," Kantartzi said, allowing farmers to see how their check dollars were used and give researchers feedback. "If the interested parties do not know what we can do and can offer, there is a big communication gap," said Kantarzi.

While working to obtain national grants on the USB, some Illinois researchers feel that "I have lost the necessary support from ISA leaders, who no longer prioritize research," said Dr. Kris Lambert, a plant pathologist at the U. of I.

"We no longer have a voice at the table," Lambert said.

And the financing that researchers hope could be even more scarce, with soy prices more than 10 percent from last year, due to Chinese tariffs imposed in the current trade war with the Trump government.

"In the last 10 years, we've all had pretty good income in terms of verification, and we're starting to see a bit of the slide with rates." said Jared Hagert, who sits on United Soybean Board. "The acres and the fans are there, the price is not, we'll have to be much more aware of what we finance in the future."

Lower crop prices mean that less money contributed to the verification of funds, which means less funds for everything the soy boards do, including research.

If Khalid Meksem does not find new funds for the summer, he will be forced to send his current research to a collaborator at another university to complete the project, he said.

The research that began in Illinois would end out of state, and Meksem would continue to reduce the university students and graduates of his laboratory. For now, he is applying to all the grants he can, he said, trying to make up the difference.

"We are hungry to address the concerns of producers, we want to start working with farmers and work with ISA." Kleczewski said. "But right now it's like he bought a new car and there's no gasoline."

The original article can be found at as-illi ….

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