• By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, OGN News

Calling All Agtech Entrepreneurs: Soy Innovation Challenge Announced by USB and the YLI

With the goal of making price setters rather than price takers out of U.S. soybean farmers, the United Soybean Board (USB) has partnered with the Yield Lab Institute (YLI) to create the Soy Innovation Challenge. This competition calls upon agtech startups to disrupt the current soybean value chain and create value for U.S. farmers through innovation and technology.

YLI, who’s leading the Challenge, is a non-profit agtech think-tank based in St. Louis, Missouri, that brands itself as the catalyst for early, seed-stage agtech startups and innovations that are accelerating to market and commercialization.

“We were founded on the premise of better engaging and connecting agrifood tech entrepreneurship with the agriculture stakeholders to drive sustainable innovation and diverse, disruptive solutions,” said Brandon Day, COO at the YLI. “Leading the search for innovators in the U.S. soy sector allows us to increase efficiencies and production of one of the U.S.’s major crops, with an annual value of over $40 billion.”

For the USB, which includes 78 volunteer farmer-directors who invest and leverage checkoff funds in programs and partnerships to drive soybean innovation beyond the bushel and increase preference for U.S. soy, this Soy Innovation Challenge is a chance to ensure that the voice of the farmer is loud and clear in deciding which disruptive technologies will transform the global food system.

While the soybean farming industry has experienced volatility, like many other farm commodities, including ongoing trade and tariff issues with China – the largest importer of soybeans – and the repercussions from the current COVID-19 pandemic, industry revenue is forecast to return to growth over the five years to 2024, according to statista.com. In 2019, roughly 3.56 billion bushels of soybeans were produced in the U.S., and soybeans are anticipated to maintain their position as the second-largest crop in the United States (after corn).

Additionally, growth of plant-based proteins and meat alternatives, of which soy is foremost, is projected to increase from $4.5 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030, according to investment firm UBS. Investors have pumped more than $16 billion into the U.S. plant-based and cell-based meat companies in the past 10 years. All the while, experts at the UN FAO have predicted that demand for non-animal-based protein has the potential to account for between 10 and 20 percent of growing demand, which would translate to the need for as much as 200 million tons of plant protein per year. However, it’s important to keep in mind that regardless if it’s animal- or plant-based consumption, all U.S. farmers serve a critical role in providing global food security. Working collaboratively, every form of protein will help meet future demand and nutritional requirements of a growing population.

With the opportunities for need and innovation wide open, and sustainable options at the forefront to creatively and economically ramp up production to feed a population expected to be more than 11 billion by the close of the century, the timing of the USB and YLI Soy Innovation Challenge is apropos.

“U.S. agriculture has a unique opportunity to offer solutions to the climate challenge,” said Tim Venverloh, USB vice president of sustainability strategy, in the announcement about the challenge. “Meeting consumer demand for sustainably produced U.S. soybeans will involve protecting soil health, improving nutrient use efficiency, and enhancing the delivery of communication of sustainability information.”

Agtech startups, project teams and groups who have an innovative product, service, or technology that provides value directly back to the U.S. soybean farmers are invited to complete the online application by May 1, 2020. Cash prizes will be awarded at the conclusion of the challenge and all selected teams will receive mentoring and resources to help advance their ideas in the areas of technical, business, financial, and environmental impact.

-- Michelle Pelletier Marshall is managing editor for HighQuest’s Global AgInvesting's quarterly GAI Gazette magazine and a contributor to the Oilseed & Grain News. She can be reached at mmarshall@highquestgroup.com.

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Lynda Kiernan is Editor with HighQuest Group Media and of the Oilseed & Grain News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration, please contact Ms. Kiernan at lkiernan@highquestgroup.com.

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