Adapting to change

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Northern soybean production helps spur NCI growth

Once recognized for its work within the wheat industry, the Northern Crops Institute (NCI) and its inclusion of soy-based courses has become a shining example of how Minnesota soybean checkoff dollars work on behalf of soybean producers.

NCI, formed in 1983 out of a need to train customers on wheat quality and uses, and has grown into an international meeting and learning center that brings teams of people from all around the world to learn about crops produced in the area. NCI is not involved in research, only promotion and market development.

Over time, crop patterns in the region changed, causing NCI to add significant new programming. Soybean production expanded and growers are now able to plant soybeans farther north due to research and new varieties. Currently, one-third of all courses offered at NCI are soybean related.

"The timing was essential in this evolution of the Northern Crops Institute," says Karolyn Zurn, a former Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) director who served on the NCI board. "The time was right for change to happen. Wheat production was decreasing as soybean production was becoming widespread and the northern region in particular was expanding in soybean production."

While Zurn was an MSGA director, she served on the NCI board on behalf of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council through its relationship with MSGA.

Mark Weber, director of NCI since 2011, said Minnesota Soybean has been influential in the leadership of NCI. Sherwood Peterson served as chair of the NCI board in 2002 as the MSGA representative. At the time, soybeans still weren't part of the curriculum.

Zurn served as NCI vice chair in 2011 and 2012, and chair in 2013 and 2014 as the MSR&PC representative.

"Instrumental to the development of NCI to include more soybean courses was Karolyn Zurn from the Minnesota Soybean Growers association and past chair of the NCI board, and Vanessa Kummer, from the North Dakota Soybean Council and (former) United Soybean Board President," Weber says. "Both of these industry leaders helped put the initial programs together."

As the transition began to include more soybean courses at NCI, the classes were not widely recognized, as NCI was still known as a wheat institute. Zurn worked together with Weber to have NCI noted as an institute for soybeans, as well. She bean working with the U.S. Soybean Export Council to encourage them to send trade teams to learn about soy.

Zurn, who was highly active in NCI as it evolved, attributes her involvement to being familiar and working within the soybean industry, being located near NCI, her interest in the Institute and her passion for representing the soybean industry.

While she served as a liaison for Minnesota Soybean, Zurn reached out to other industry leaders to explain what NCI does and to spark more interest.

"We made sure that I would attend market development meetings on behalf of the Northern Crops Institute and make presentations of proposals and gain support for the institute's efforts."

Those meetings, where MSR&PC and MSGA directors discussed possible checkoff investments to recommend to the full MSR&PC board of directors, helped lay the groundwork for soybean education within NCI.

Trade teams visiting the institute often have the opportunity to tour local farms, such as the Zurn farm in Callaway, Minn. This gives attendees the chance to see production firth hand and understand why soybeans growing in the area are a great feed component.

"NCI has received great support from the tri-state soybean councils, " Weber says. "The three groups work as one to address the question 'what projects can we do together to improve the soybean industry as a whole?'"

Also available to trade teams visiting NCI is sophisticated grain trading lab, developed by Dr. William Wilson of North Dakota State University. This lab gives attendees the ability to practice hands-on trading in arealistic simulated environment.

Two years ago, NCI updated the on-site feed mill. The three-quarter million dollar project received generous support. A soybean feed manufacturing trade team from China was the first class after renovation. The feed jill also has a feed scientist to work with and provide training. To date, NCI has hosted trade teams from 140 countries. The facility and its staff of 12 are located on the North Dakota State University campus, in Fargo, N.D.