Few, if any, food plants can match the soybean for versatility. Sometimes called the "miracle crop" in agriculture, soybeans and their by-products help feed the world, shelter and clothe us, provide the ink for our newspapers and even power our vehicles.
There are thousands of uses for soybeans, and new uses are being found every year, says Dr. Lanny Ashlock, an agronomist for the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas.
The soybean is one of the most popular crops grown in the world, Ashlock said. In the United States, nearly 400,000 farmers in 29 states produce soybeans.In Arkansas,the Cooperative Extension Service assisted several thousand farmers who raised 3.4 million acres of soybeans in 1994. The crop's value was $664 million.
The soybean industry has kept interest strong in soybeans by funding research that has resulted in many new products in such areas as foods, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing.
"The oil obtained from processing soybeans is a very safe, edible oil that we can do many things with chemically," says Ashlock.
A mixture of diesel fuel and modified soybean oil powered the truck that hauled the Razorback mascot around War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for several University of Arkansas football games in 1993 and at pep rallies outside the stadium in 1994.
The Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board presented the truck to the Cooperative Extension Service in 1993 to aid specialists in their work and to promote soybeans.
Ashlock said the truck is providing data which will help researchers prove that SoyDiesel can power mass transit systems rallies more cleanly than diesel alone and without engine modifications.
But there are many more uses of soybeans.
Work is underway to perfect a soy-based plastic that dissolves in salt water in 30 minutes. This will help personnel aboard oceangoing ships comply with a new law that prohibits them from dumping plastics overboard.
"There is a potential to make utensils from soybean oil, then recycle them as feed for cattle, since they would be a digestible feed source," Ashlock said.
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is contributing to the research effort with soybeans.
A research group headed by Dr. Navam Hettiarchchy, an associate professor in the food science department, has developed an adhesive that she hopes will capture a share of the $10 billion wood adhesives industry in the United States. Theadhesive is "environmentally friendly," nontoxic and not dependent on foreign oil as petroleum-based adhesives are, Hettiarchchy said.
Trent Roberts, executive director of the Southwest Council in Little Rock, also listed these soy products derived by research:
"There are some other exciting new soy-based products coming, including graffiti cleaning agents, a degreaser, hand-cleaners and crayons," Roberts said.
There's also a study to determine if soyobean protein can help reduce cancer risks and heart disease."
Most new product research is funded by a checkoff in which farmers pay for promotion, research and market development through an assessment on the sales of their crops.
The United Soybean Board, which collects and distributes the money, allotted $6.75 million for research in 1994.
Nearly 33 percent of that amount was earmarked for new product development through the American Soybean Association.