The American Soybean Association recognized two individuals for leadership within the soybean industry during an awards ceremony broadcast March 16.
Dr. Pengyin Chen from Sikeston, Missouri, received the Pinnacle Award and John Heisdorffer from Keota, Iowa, received the Distinguished Leadership Award.
'Trailblazer in soybean research and breeding'
The ASA Pinnacle Award is an industry-wide recognition of individuals who have demonstrated the highest level of contribution and leadership within the soybean family and industry through work involving a significant amount of their lifetime.
Chen, a professor in soybean breeding at the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center in Portageville, Missouri, is recognized as a pioneer in the soybean and soy food industries. His life’s work has aimed to develop genetics that allow U.S. farmers to capture extra value from higher soybean yield and quality.
Since the mid-1980s in Iowa, Chen’s career in plant breeding and genetics has taken him to Texas, Virginia, Arkansas and Missouri. In the 1990s, Chen was part of the team that brought the Hutcheson soybean to market, which is known to be an ancestor to nearly 80% of soybean varieties grown in the South.
Chen has released a combined total of more than 30 conventional row crop varieties and food grade varieties during his career. He is the most prolific food grade soybean breeder, having developed the highest-protein commercial soybean varieties.
Chen developed soybeans for tofu, edamame, soymilk, natto bean sprouts, and soy nuts. At the University of Missouri, he is helping release high oleic soybean varieties.
“Dr. Chen is a trailblazer in soybean research and breeding, and his professional accomplishments have benefited soybean growers across the United States,” said ASA Vice President Brad Doyle, who is an Arkansas soybean grower and nominated Dr. Chen for the Pinnacle Award. “His contributions to soybean genetics are a cornerstone to the innovation and progress we see across the industry today.”
Chen also excels at communicating about soybean genetic advances through field days and meetings with growers, foreign buyers and researchers. He’s written or co-authored more than 225 journal articles.
In addition, Chen has taught classes in plant breeding and soybean production, helping educate and mentor dozens of students, many now employed by major agriculture companies and universities.
Dedicated advocate for soybean growers
The ASA Distinguished Leadership Award recognizes a soybean grower or association staff leader whose leadership has strengthened the national or state association, enhanced soy-related policy efforts and increased farmer education or engagement.
Heisdorffer’s soy leadership spans both state and national levels. Serving on the Iowa Soybean Association board for many years, he helped lead the association and Iowa Soybean Promotion Board through a joint strategic planning process that resulted in a merger of the two organizations in 2005. He became president of the unified Iowa Soybean Association in 2008 and served as chair of the association’s building committee in 2009 and 2010 when the Iowa Soybean Association’s building project was completed.
Heisdorffer completed nine years of service on the ASA Board of Directors this past December, during which time he served on a variety of ASA committees, participated in trade missions, testified before Congress and advocated for soybean farmers on many key issues, including the farm bill and trade agreements.
Heisdorffer was elected president of ASA in December 2017, just months before U.S. tariffs were placed on billions of dollars of Chinese goods, resulting in a U.S. China trade war. As ASA president, Heisdorffer expertly handled months of continuing media inquiries—often times from the cab of his tractor—while remaining dedicated to advocating for the needs of soybean farmers amid the challenges presented by the trade war.
He has also served on ASA’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) committee, the U.S. Soybean Export Council board and as a member of the National Biodiesel Board.