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Lake Wilson farmer honored for leadership

LAKE WILSON -- Rural Lake Wilson farmer Gene Stoel was honored earlier this month as the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council's Director of the Year. The award was presented during a luncheon at the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association annual meeting Jan. 7.

Stoel was elected to the MSR&PC in 2007 as a representative of District 7, which encompasses the nine counties of southwest Minnesota. Also serving on that 12-member council are Jim Willers of Beaver Creek, who serves as chairman, and Ron Obermoller of Brewster.

Willers presented the Director of the Year award to Stoel in recognition of his willingness to volunteer and his leadership skills.

"Gene has really become my right-hand man this year," said Willers. "Not only has he volunteered his time representing the council on numerous occasions, he is also dependable, knowledgeable and always gives 110 percent. He is exactly the kind of representation Minnesota soybean farmers deserve."

Stoel grew up on the family farm near Lake Wilson and farmed part-time during his 20-year stint working in grain elevators. Following his father's retirement in 1990, Stoel became a full-time farmer. He now grows corn and soybeans on approximately 500 acres, and continues to operate an insurance and consulting business out of his home office.

Stoel joined the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association in 2002, and was encouraged that same year to run for a seat on the executive board. He served one year as secretary before being named vice chair in 2007. He was also elected chair of MSGA's research committee in 2007.

"I'm of the opinion that anyone who wants to try to sell something also needs to help promote it," said Stoel of his involvement in the soybean growers group."I'm not a politician. I would rather talk to the people who are doing the research and can help us promote the product."

Council funds research

The MSR&PC directs an annual budget of approximately $8 million -- money that comes from the Minnesota soybean checkoff. Of that, $4 million goes to the United Soybean Board, with the remainder staying in Minnesota for research and promotion. The University of Minnesota receives $1.2 million for soybean production research.

"The checkoff is a very important part of soybean production," Stoel said. "If we're going to grow them, we need to sell them."

This month, Stoel and his fellow committee members are looking at the 23 proposals received by the MSR&PC for possible funding of research projects. Many of the requests are for financial assistance to help research ways to improve yields and minimize the impact of diseases.

"(They're) just trying to improve the farmer's bottom line," Stoel said.

A couple examples of projects requesting funds include research that breeds resistance to aphids or brown stem rot into the soybean seed.

"In the last couple of years there's been a lot of bioengineering or genetic marker research that they are doing to find ways to increase yields and to minimize diseases or pests," he added.

Since researchers finished mapping the genome of the soybean a year ago, Stoel said the opportunities for research have expanded, particularly in the area of yield and disease resistance.

"The breeding projects that we fund are probably the most important," he said. "They come up with new varieties that have better resistance."

From aphids to wasps

During the first couple of years of soybean aphid pressure in Minnesota, Stoel said the University of Minnesota provided farmers with a lot of information about the pest -- information that was funded by the MSR&PC.

"I think we've saved the Minnesota soybean farmer a lot of money just by having that information available to them," said Stoel.

In addition to supplying farmers with information about aphids, new research has shown the effectiveness of using parasitic wasps to control the aphid population in Minnesota.

Native to China, the parasitic wasp has been released in Minnesota for the past couple of years after going through a rigorous clearance process.

"We're not sure if it's going to survive our climate," said Stoel of the wasps that are about the size of a pin head. "(They're) not totally effective, but if we can find something like that, we won't have to spray for aphids."

In addition to new research, Stoel said the soybean council continues to fund efforts in biodiesel and soybean rust.

"Through our affiliation with the soybean board, we've come up with a lot of new uses for soybeans," Stoel said. Among them are soybean-based foam that can be found in the seats of Ford Mustangs, and soy-based plastic used in the construction of John Deere combines.

Finding new uses for soybeans and soybean oil has helped boost crop prices and benefit all farmers who grow the crop.

"It used to be that there was too much soybean oil in the country," Stoel said. "If it wasn't for those new uses, we'd probably still be wondering what to do with our soybean oil."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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