Soybean biostimulant used to boost indoor crops

Two years ago, the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Purdue University celebrated 25 years of a jointly sponsored competition that produces potential new uses of soybeans each year. The Student Soybean Innovation Competition continues, and although a public, live ceremony recognizing students and unveiling their creations hasn’t been held since that special celebration, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, new uses generated in the 2021 competition are still exciting.

Teams of Purdue students begin months ahead of the competition date, working across school disciplines and receiving mentoring from Purdue faculty members. The goal is to fill a current need in the marketplace with a product that contains some form of soybeans. Ultimately, the end goal is to find potential for a product that a company might want to market commercially.

The winning team in the 27th annual competition developed a liquid biostimulant using soybean products. Emmanuel Alagbe, Ibadan, Nigeria; Nate Nauman, West Lafayette, Ind.; and Cai Chen, Elmont, N.Y.; targeted a specific niche: creating a biostimulant to promote growth in crops raised in vertical farms. This type of farming, which involves growing crops indoors, is already large in Europe and appears poised to take off in the U.S.

The students explain that biostimulants help crops germinate rapidly and achieve greater plant mass and yield. They improve nutrient uptake. However, they’re not fertilizers or pesticides. There are already products in this space, but they don’t use soybean ingredients. Alagbe says their product can improve growth rate and ease stress. Their new product, which is 98% soy, is unique because soy protein peptides have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Biostimulants are often used on lettuce, and lettuce can become contaminated with pathogens that cause foodborne illness, such as listeria. It’s possible that biostimulants containing soy could decrease the risk for pathogens to contaminate food.    

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