History of the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (1936-2017)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-90-7

Publication Date: 2017 March 3

Number of References in Bibliography: 662

Earliest Reference: 1935

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Brief chronology/timeline of the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (Urbana, Illinois)
The U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory pioneered in soybean breeding and cooperative uniform testing to produce improved soybean varieties in the United States.

Most of this work took place during World War II when the U.S. relied on the soybean to replace imported oils and fats that were no longer available.

The laboratory learned how to gradually increase the oil content of its best soybean varieties through breeding.

Since soybeans are sensitive to photoperiod, cooperative testing was used as a new, precise tool to identify which varieties gave the best soybean yields in which geographical areas. The Laboratory developed the modern basic concept of “Maturity Groups.”

By studying new soybean diseases, in part the result of intensive soybean cultivation, disease specialists worked with soybean breeders to find varieties that were resistant to these diseases, and to breed this resistance into new varieties.

The result was a steady stream, year after year, of improved soybean varieties for both northeast and the southern U.S. states.
1933 March 4 – Henry A. Wallace (D), Iowa, becomes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945).
1935 June 29 – The Bankhead-Jones Act is enacted during the Great Depression. Also known as the Agricultural Research Act, it was: “An Act to provide for research into basic laws and principles relating to agriculture and to provide for the further development of cooperative agricultural extension work and the more complete endowment and support of land-grant colleges.”
      There were eventually nine U.S. regional laboratories, each in a different state, established under the Bankhead-Jones Act. Besides the Soybean Laboratory in Urbana, Illinois, there were (for example): The U.S. Regional Vegetable Breeding Laboratory (Charlestown, South Carolina). The U.S. Pasture Research Laboratory (State College, Pennsylvania). The U.S. Regional Salinity Laboratory (Riverside, California) (Lambert 1947, Foreword).
1935 Sept. 9 – Letter from H.W. Mumford to W.L. Burlison et al. concerning the first meeting of the Committee on the Regional Soybean Research Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois. Mumford is Dean, College of Agriculture, University of Illinois, Urbana. Burlison is head of the Department of Agronomy, Univ. of Illinois.
1936 Feb. 7 – U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory is founded at a meeting in Chicago, Illinois; it will be located at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois using funds from the Bankhead-Jones Act. It is the third of a series of laboratories initiated under the Bankhead-Jones Act.
      The Soybean Laboratory as originally set up was a cooperation between the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering; the Bureau of Agricultural and Industrial Chemistry; and the experiment stations of the 12 states of the North Central region.
      It is divided into two main groups: the Analytical (also called industrial utilization or chemical research) and the Agronomic division. Its mission is to do the first organized U.S. research on industrial uses of soybeans. Housed in the “Old Agricultural Building” at the University of Illinois, it is formed by a formal cooperative agreement between USDA and 12 state agricultural experiment stations and agricultural colleges from the North Central Region. William Morse had encouraged this type of cooperative program for many years.
      Before 1936 (starting in about 1905 in Nebraska) “cooperative work” or “cooperative experiments” generally referred to an agricultural experiment station sending soybean varieties and growing instructions to applicants in its state, together with a form that the station asked the farmers to fill out and send back after they had harvested the different varieties. After 1936, the soybean varieties were sent to many more farmers in all of the cooperating states (Cartter.1947. Soybean Digest. Aug. p. 12-14, 17).
1936 April 26 – Inaugural meeting of the "Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory" on 22 April 1936, is held at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois.
1936 July 1 – The systematic research program begins at the Regional Soybean Laboratory (Nation’s Business. Sept., p. 24-26, 94).
      “Work during the first few years was devoted to fundamental studies on the methods of breeding soybeans and on exploring the factors affecting accuracy of nursery trials” (Cartter.1947. Soybean Digest. Aug. p. 12-14, 17).
      Organized research on the industrial uses of soybeans began with the establishment the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois (Milner. 1947. Soybean Digest. June. p. 21).
1936 – Jackson L. Cartter is made head of the agronomic section of the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory, Urbana, Illinois, where he supervises agronomic, physiologic, and genetic studies of the soybean in 12 North Central states (Soybean Digest. Jan. 1946. p. 26).
1940 Sept. 5 – Claude R. Wickard (D), Indiana, becomes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945).
1940 Dec. 16 – The Northern Regional Research Laboratory begins operation at Peoria, Illinois. It was established in 1938 as part of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA, spearheaded by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry A. Wallace as part of the New Deal). The AAA called for the establishment of four regional research laboratories to develop new uses and new markets for farm crops. For the next 75+ years the NRRL in Peoria is deeply involved with important research on soybeans and soyfoods (including tofu, tempeh and miso).
1942 July 1 – The analytical (also called industrial utilization or chemical research) division, one of two departments of the Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois, is moved to the NRRL at Peoria. But the agronomic (breeding and culture) division of the USDA experiments is to remain at its present location in Urbana with its field of work greatly expanded. It is under the USDA Bureau of Plant Industry.
      As a result of this change the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory at Urbana was able to extend the cooperative breeding and research studies to the agricultural experiment stations of 12 Southern States (Lambert 1947, p. 5).
      The uniform variety tests have been conducted by the State agricultural experiment stations in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri since the beginning of the cooperative program in 1936, and all of the North Central States have cooperated in this work since 1942 (Lambert 1947, p. 5).
1942 – Jackson L. Cartter is appointed Agronomist in charge at the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (Urbana).
1943 – “The southern soybean program conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory and the 12 Southern States began with the 1943 growing season” (RSLM No. 133, April 1946).
1942-1946 – The modern concept of a “maturity group” and of the designation of maturity groups as 0 to VIII etc. evolves out of the cooperative work of the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory. The actual term “maturity groups” is first used in Feb. 1946 in RSLM No. 131.
1942-1943 – “The greatly increased demand for vegetable oils because of wartime needs resulted in the expansion of the research facilities of the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory during the winter of 1942-43 to include in the cooperative soybean program the 12 southern states along with the original 12 states of the North Central region.
      Headquarters for the southern region are located at the Delta Branch Experiment Station at Stoneville, Mississippi (Henson 1945, p. 47, 60; Henson & Carr, 1946, p. 3).
1943 Feb. 13 – The Bureau of Agricultural and Industrial Chemistry is established pursuant to Executive Order 9069 to include the four regional research laboratories and some divisions of the former Bureau of Agricultural Chemistry and Engineering (Baker 1963, p. 471).
1943 – The soybean variety Lincoln is released jointly by the University of Illinois, USDA, and several other universities. It "was the first variety to be developed from a purposeful hybridization and was the first to be cooperatively released under the agreement of 1936” (Howell 1984).
      Other important varieties developed by the cooperative breeding and testing program include Hawkeye, Earlyana, Adams, Monroe, and many others (Soybean News. 1949. Dec., p. 4).
1943 – The early breeding work of the Regional Soybean Laboratory has already resulted in the development of such varieties as Dunfield, Illini, Manchu, Richland, and many others.
      “Most of the crosses that are being developed through the cooperative program are made at four or five breeding centers and the better of the segregating plant populations are distributed in an early stage to all the interested experiment stations so that further selection can be done in the area for which the strains are being developed (Cartter 1947, p. 12).
1944 – Funds are made available by Congress for research on soybean diseases, through the USDA Bureau of Plant Industry. This happened largely because of the lobbying efforts of soybean producers and crushers (Cartter 1947, p. 14).
1945 June 30 – Clinton P. Anderson (D), New Mexico, becomes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953).
1946 Aug. 14 – The federal Research and Marketing Act becomes law making new and greatly expanded funds available to USDA, especially for marketing research. Some is allocated to basic research on improving the flavor stability of soybean oil. Some is used to study potential markets for soybeans and soy products in Europe.
1947 – The first detailed study of the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (including its cooperators in the 12 North Central and 12 Southern states) is published: Lambert, W.V. 1947. “Improvement and industrial utilization of soybeans: Research under the Soybean Laboratory program.” USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 623. 26 p. Sept. It contains a history, an analysis of its goals and accomplishments, and a superb bibliography of all 148 scientific articles published by the laboratory and its cooperators.
1948 – Dr. Edgar E. Hartwig assumes the role of coordinator of the soybean testing and evaluation program in the South (Soybean Digest. 1971. July, p. 15).
1949 – The USDA germ plasm/germplasm collection opens at The U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (Urbana, Illinois), however it was being assembled for the past 5-10 years by Jackson L. Cartter and L.F. Williams of the Soybean Lab. It began with a collection soybean introductions (largely from East Asia) and selections to serve as a foundation stock. In 1951 Edgar E. Hartwig became curator of the southern soybean germplasm collection located at Stoneville, Mississippi (Bernard et al. 1987, p. 1; Hymowitz 1998, interview).
1953 Jan. 21 – Ezra Taft Benson (R), Idaho, becomes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961).
      He was a member of the Council of Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Mormon) at the time he was appointed.
1954 – Herbert Johnson says that this rapid expansion in soybean production created new problems with diseases and insects, cultural and fertilization practices, and varieties, and our research effort has not kept pace with the increase in production problems.
1954 – Herbert W. Johnson takes over as leader of Soybean Investigations at USDA after Martin G. Weiss retires. He continued in this position until 1964. Next to Wm. Morse, Herbert Johnson “probably had the greatest influence on the development of soybean research.” During this period “the soybean cyst nematode was found for the first time in the United States, the first disease-resistant soybean varieties were developed, and a significant increase in the size and scope of soybean research staffs occurred, including the beginnings of the major increase in research on soybean physiology” (Howell 1984, p. 129).
1961 Jan. 21 – Orville L. Freeman (D), Minnesota, becomes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) and then under Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969).
1961 Oct. – An article by Robert W. Howell and Richard L. Bernard, in the Sept/Oct. issue of Crop Science (p. 311-13), states: This is: “Publication No. 351 of the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory, Urbana, Illinois.” Both authors are soybean scientists at this very important laboratory.
1964 – Twenty scientists are now located in 8 states engaged in soybean production investigations in the USDA. Dr. Robert W. Howell (Urbana, Illinois) has been named leader of soybean investigations for the Crops Research Division, of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service; a plant physiologist, he succeeds Herbert W. Johnson.
1967 – Soybeans are now the No. 1 U.S. cash crop. This could never have happened without ongoing help from the USDA, and State agricultural colleges and their experiment stations (Simerl 1967, p. 12-13).
1973 Feb. – The latest known issue of the RSLM Uniform Soybean Tests is published by the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory. Its title: “The Uniform Soybean Tests, southern States, 1972. No. 251. 123 p. The authors are Edgar E. Hartwig and Kathryn W. Jamisen.
      The Uniform Soybean Test reports continue (to the present) but they do not mention the U.S. Regional Soybean Lab. They are organized and published by the UDSA.
1973 March – The highest number found in the RSLM series is published by the Regional Soybean Lab. It is: “Report of the second national soybean research conference: Memphis, Tennessee, March 5-8, 1973.” No. 775. March 5. xvii + 51 p.
      We wonder what happened to all the RSLM numbers between No. 251and No. 775.
1980s early – At about this time the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (Urbana, Illinois) ceased to exist, but it was never formally closed. Much of the work was transferred to the University of Ohio. At this time, Dr. Richard Bernard salvaged many of the files, and stored them at the University of Illinois South Farm (Bernard 1997, interview).

Click here to download the full text to open and read book History of the U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory (1936-2017)