Delaware farmer Cory Atkins explains that sustainability has been a part of his livelihood for as long as he can remember. He understands well how farmers rely on these practices to ensure the longevity of their businesses in his Chesapeake Bay region community where preserving land alongside urban development means survival.
“Growers have been farming sustainability around here long before it was a word on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” says Atkins, a Delaware farmer who volunteers his time as a United Soybean Board (USB) director. “It’s important for us to take care of the soil as well as use environmentally friendly practices when we farm,” says Atkins who at age 10 took over his father’s rototiller to start gardening. “People should understand that we do these things not only to take care of the earth, but also to ensure our farms last for generations,”
Atkins should know. He is a 2016 winner of the American Soybean Association’s Conservation Legacy Award, which recognizes farm management practices of U.S. soybean farmers that are both environmentally friendly and profitable. Pretty impressive given that he is a first-generation farmer who bought his first 52 acres of farmland in 2013 through the Delaware Young Farmers Loan Program that connects beginning farmers with preserved farmland.
So, it comes as no surprise that visitors to his farm will notice his adoption of a soy-biobased product that not only performs as well or better than traditional products, but also helps protect the land and people from harsh chemicals.
DUST, is a soy-biobased lubricant used to ease the flow of seeds through planting equipment. Through the soy checkoff, the USB supported research to develop the product that is now manufactured by a farmer-owned company Low Mu Tech. DUST offers an innovative sustainability tool for seeding of construction sites and roadways, and, of course, farm field
Seed lubricants improve seeds flowing through planting equipment because they reduce seed-to-seed-friction and prevent seeds from sticking together. A key feature of the soy protein isolates used in the product is that they are highly degradable, unlike synthetic polymers. People as well as pollinators benefit from the biodegradable soy-protein based product that contains no graphite or talc. According to a peer-reviewed article published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the use of biobased lubricants with soy-protein material could reduce negative environmental impacts potentially caused by graphite or talc-based lubricants. Various sources, from the Centers for Disease Control to researchers from Kansas State University note continued use of graphite could potentially be hazardous to health.
“I’ve been very pleased with the product,” Atkins says as he turns over the smooth powdery substance in his hands to compare it to a graphite-based lubricant. “I use it on just about every crop that I plant- from corn to snap beans and, of course, my soybeans. You name it.”
“It all started when I was accepted into USB’s See For Yourself program,” says Atkins, now chair of the Delaware Soybean Board. The program shows farmer leaders USB’s checkoff funds in action. “DUST certainly piqued my interest, because a sustainable product that I could use on my crops is a big plus for me.”
Another big plus is that DUST is composed of 100% soy protein, which is biodegradable, renewable and abundant in supply.
Lighter-weight cover crop seeds as well as corn, cotton and soybeans avoid static electricity during the planting process. So clean handling is another benefit for users.
“Although, I’m very busy with planting, I sometimes find time to sneak out on the Chesapeake Bay. Knowing this product is safe to use around sources like the Chesapeake Bay is huge,” Atkins says.
Atkins likes DUST so much that he agreed to be a distributor to local farmers and others in his area who could use the product.
Low Mu Tech continues to build markets for production agriculture as well. Success in production agriculture could also spread the seeds of sustainability to other industries.
Low Mu Tech CEO Brian Tulley notes that he is excited to see DUST expand to other enterprises. “Our product can certainly be used for other grass seedings like for parks and municipalities,” says Tulley. This provides an opportunity for government agencies to consider DUST to reach their environmental goals.
For Atkins, USB’s checkoff program pays visible dividends not only for farmers’ profit-margins, but for the environment as well. “As a soybean grower, the checkoff supporting products like this is not only an investment in the future of farming but for a green future as well,” remarked Atkins. “I especially like that we’re investing in products that have an impact you can see and feel.”
Before a photography crew left his farm, Atkins was sure to mention another checkoff-funded product–his Skechers shoes. U.S. soy is available in specific Skechers footwear thanks to their collaboration with The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Select Skechers styles utilize Goodyear rubber technology that contains a special polymer including sustainable soybean oil, now used in six lines of the company’s top-performing tires. USB supported Goodyear research that discovered that soybean oil could improve tire flexibility at low temperatures, helping the rubber to remain pliable in cold weather and enhancing traction in rain and snow simultaneously. Skechers’ soles use this same technology.
Soy protein-based DUST and Skechers shoes with soybean oil are just more examples of USB farmers talking the talk and “walking the walk” of sustainability.
Because of the potential for biobased products to create new markets for soybeans, U.S. soybean farmers have invested millions of dollars to research, test and promote biobased products. Much of this work was done through the United Soybean Board, which is composed of 78 U.S. soybean farmers appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to invest soybean checkoff funds. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services has oversight responsibilities for the soybean checkoff.