Wallaces Farmer

ISU's Walt Fehr Honored by Iowa Soybean Association

Well-respected soybean breeder, researcher and professor given ISA's first Lifetime Achievement Award.

January 1, 2009

3 Min Read

The Iowa Soybean Association honored Iowa State University professor Dr. Walter Fehr with the ISA's first Lifetime Achievement Award at ISA's annual policy conference and 45th anniversary kickoff in Ames on December 19.

John Heisdorffer, ISA president and a farmer from Keota, made the presentation, recognizing Fehr for his contribution to soybean plant breeding. "ISA is very happy to present Dr. Fehr with our first lifetime achievement award," Heisdorffer said. "We've worked with Walt for many years, and we appreciate his tireless work for soybean farmers and his visionary leadership in soybean research."

Fehr came to ISU in 1964, the year that ISA was begun. He is a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the highest academic honor at ISU, and he teaches and conducts research in plant breeding, specializing in soybean breeding and genetics, in the Department of Agronomy.

Developed innovative plant breeding program

Fehr has been a long-time friend of the Iowa Soybean Association, says Kirk Leeds, CEO of ISA. "Dr. Fehr has received checkoff funding for his soybean research since the inception of the soybean checkoff 37 years ago."

Since then, Leeds says, Fehr has developed an extremely innovative plant breeding program that uses traditional plant breeding methods along with biotechnology to enhance the genetic traits of soybeans. In the past two decades he has focused on the discovery and development of novel traits to improve soybean yield and enhance quality."

Fehr's research has produced more than 200 food-grade soybean varieties that are grown in Iowa and throughout the U.S. The soybeans are sold at a premium price and marketed throughout the world. He was also the first to develop heart-healthy soybeans that contain no trans fat.

During his career Fehr has also directed 77 graduate student programs, and many of those graduates are now soybean breeders in public and private plant breeding programs throughout the United States.

Director of ISU's Office of Biotechnology

In addition to his other responsibilities, Fehr is the director of the ISU Office of Biotechnology, which assists departments with the hiring of biotech faculty, provides graduate fellowships for outstanding students, operates state-of-the-art instrumentation facilities for research, conducts an innovative education program for K-12 teachers and Extension personnel, coordinates technology transfer with industry and supports an active bioethics program.

Recalling all of Fehr's accomplishments, Leeds said, "ISA is proud to have had the opportunity to have such a long working relationship with Dr. Fehr."

ISU President Gregory Geoffroy was on hand to congratulate Fehr, calling him "one of the great faculty at ISU, having the highest title in the department."

"Dr. Fehr is a lead researcher in the industry and a great educator," Geoffroy said. "He is also a great ISU citizen. In directing the ISU biotechnology program, he unselfishly promotes biotechnology and the careers of fellow researchers."

Soy checkoff funded much of his research

For Dr. Fehr, the recognition led him to recall that his work with soybeans and ISA has truly been "a family affair," noting that his children grew up with the soybean association and with soybeans. "The entire family got involved in helping with soybean work in the field, and our family vacation destinations were wherever there was a soybean conference being held.

"One of the most significant developments during the years has been the checkoff," Fehr said. He recalled that the checkoff enabled research to become mechanized and less labor intensive. It also made research in South America possible so that new varieties could be developed in six years, rather than 15. The checkoff makes information available to the public regarding management of disease, for instance, and it also made possible the internship of 250 students, many of whom are now experts in the industry.

Referring to research in food grade soy, Fehr said, "All roads lead back to ISU."

That is a legacy that can be credited, in large part, to Fehr and helps make him a deserving recipient of ISA's first Lifetime Achievement Award, says Leeds.

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