‘High oleic’ could be ‘game changer’ for soybean growers

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DELPHOS, Ohio — A new type of soybean that promises less than half the fatty acids as conventional beans is gaining momentum among Ohio soybean farmers.

Known as high-oleic soybeans, they produce one of the lowest fat cooking oils of all sources, and seed companies and growers believe they hold the potential to expand the soybean market.

U.S. edible soy oil consumption fell by roughly 15 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to data from Qualisoy — a partnership of major U.S. seed companies, soybean associations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that wants to see high-oleic beans hit the market.

‘Absolutely optimistic’

Speaking at the Ohio Farm Science Review in September, Hancock County farmer John Motter said he was “absolutely optimistic” about his first year with the new beans. He had not yet harvested any beans, because of the late harvest season, but anticipated a good yield when the combines start to roll.

“They’re every bit as good as everything around me,” he said.

High-oleic soybeans are still new to most farmers, because they have not yet met all the deregulations to be mass marketed and sold internationally. But, Amanda Rinehart, a spokesperson for Pioneer, said deregulation is fast coming. The seeds already have been deregulated in the U.S., Canada and New Mexico, as well as in several other countries.

Early harvest report

Farmers who grew the beans for the first year are just now beginning harvest, but initial reports are they are yielding as high as other beans.

Kevin Homan, a grower from Napoleon in Henry County who planted Plenish, a Pioneer brand high-oleic soybean, said so far, the beans have ranged from 49-72 bushels per acre, depending on soil type.

He planted 750 acres of Plenish on different soils, so he would know what kind of an impact the soil would have. This also has been a poor year weatherwise, he said, because of the wet spring.

“They (Plenish) are yielding as good as some of the best ones and as poorly a some of the worst ones,” he said.

Homan said they actually handled the wet season better than he expected.

Bunge contract. On Oct. 10, Pioneer and Bunge North America announced they will work with farmers near Bunge’s facility in Delphos, Ohio, to grow Plenish high-oleic beans in 2012.

Pioneer will contract with area farmers for soybeans to be delivered to Bunge’s facility for processing. Growers will be eligible for a processor-paid stewardship incentive, and must grow the beans under identity-preserved conditions — meaning they cannot be mixed or come in contact with other beans.

“Ohio soybean growers have demonstrated their ability to produce identity-preserved soybeans, and the 2012 contract program will provide them an opportunity to earn more income per bushel than commodity soy production while benefiting the soybean industry,” said Randy Minton, business director at Pioneer Hi-Bred, in a statement.

Monsanto plans to begin offering its version of high-oleic soybeans — Vistive Gold — in about three years, following receipt of global regulatory approvals.

Healthier bean

The low saturate version of high-oleic soybeans produce edible oil with less than 7 percent saturated fat, and 18 percent polyunsaturated fat. Canola oil has slightly more saturated fat, but more than double the polyunsaturated fat at 31 percent.

Palm oil has 50 percent saturated fat and regular soybeans have 14 percent saturated fat and 61 percent polyunsaturated fat.

“The consumer benefit, that has to be a major selling point all the way up the food chain,” Motter said. “When there is a noted consumer benefit, that’s got to resonate.”

The soybean oil is said to produce a better tasting food than some other oils, and perform better when cooking.

“That’s going help the food companies, which also helps the consumers consume a good product that’s got the flavor characteristics they want, but also some of the health benefits going down the road,” said John Muenzenberger, business manager of specialty oils for Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Biotech benefit

The high-oleic beans are considered a biotech seed, and one of the first that will not only benefit farmers with new market share, but also consumers.

“This is the first biotech trait that really is a consumer benefit,” Muenzenberger said. “It’s really filling that loop and closing that gap that we had, and the consumer sees something in it.”

Looking ahead

Rinehart said Pioneer is unsure how many high-oleic soybeans will be sold in 2012, but expects it to be enough to plant between 50,000-100,00 acres. She and other supporters are hopeful deregulation will be complete by the 2013 growing season.

Producers could quickly find themselves with more demand than they can meet, at least at first. Producing a steady supply of high-oleic beans will be important, if the industry wants to supply the food markets.

“The food companies and the processors are really looking for that supply, year-in and year-out,” Muenzenberger said.

Seed companies and soybean growers are equally unsure where the new beans could go. They’re optimistic, but say it’s too soon to tell.

“This is ground zero for us,” Muenzenberger said. “I think this the potential for this is tremendous. Does it really become the new commodity? I don’t know.”

Dale Profit, director of the United Soybean Board and Ohio soybean grower near Van Wert, moderated the discussion. He serves as secretary/treasurer for the Qualisoy board and said the new beans definitely have the “potential to be game changing.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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