Josh Kirkpatrick didn't know what to expect from the high-oleic soybeans he and his brothers grew in 2013. But they were attracted by their promise and premium-earning opportunity.
High-oleic soybeans are in growing demand to meet the food industry's need to eliminate trans fats from oils used in some manufactured and restaurant food products. Partially hydrogenated oils, including soy, are traditionally a major source of trans fats in processed foods. Proponents of high-oleic soybean oil say it contains lower saturated fat than commodity soybean oil and many competing oils, and has greater stability and added fry and product shelf life.
Similar production practices
The agronomic management of high-oleic soybeans is not unlike commodity soybeans. Kirkpatrick says management and costs are similar. The difference is the high-oleic beans must be identity preserved (IP) through handling to meet company contract requirements and earn the value-added premium.
"We planted 380 acres of Pioneer varietyY42," says Kirkpatrick , who farms 6,500 acres of soybeans and corn with brothers John and James near Newtown, Ind. "The beans looked great all year. The plants at harvest were tall and lanky and yielded in the mid-60s, which was as good, or better, than the average from our other soybean varieties."
Russell Stevens, Hurlock, Md., also grew a Pioneer high-oleic variety in 2013. The corn and soybean farmer raises vegetables, and double-cropped the high-oleic beans with them.
"Our plants were not particularly tall, but they did set pods heavy," says Stevens. "Early yields showed about the same average as our commodity soybeans."
Sarah Vacek, Monsanto product manager for quality traits, says Asgrow Vistive Gold customers also report strong yields and agronomic performance in 2013. Three available Asgrow varieties range from mid- to late-Group III. Five Pioneer Plenish seed products for 2014 range from Group 2.6 to 3.4. Three of the five are Y Series soybeans and two are T Series. In both cases, the varieties were bred for specific regions near high-oleic soybean processors.
"We initially are focused on the western Ohio, northern Indiana and southern Michigan region. Many of the farmers in that area are familiar with growing (IP) soybeans, and the beans are processed in Zeeland, Mich," says Vacek. "We will expand regions in a couple of years."
Russ Sanders, director for Dupont Pioneer Nutrition and Industry Markets Group, says their seed products are best suited for areas East of the Mississippi River, but they are looking into western region production long-term as well. Visit http://bit.ly/1a4WfiR for the current list of processing partners and locations.
Special handling practices
Since high-oleic soybeans must be segregated, companies offer the 50-60 cent per bushel premium. Vistive Gold growers also receive a stewardship bonus for 2014 production only.
"As we wait for global approvals, added segregation steps are needed on the farm," says Vacek, "including allowing Monsanto onto farms, planting buffers and attending mandatory meetings."
Those extra steps are pretty manageable, says Jack Leslie, who farms near Upper Sandusky, Ohio. He has planted Vistive Gold soybeans for two seasons, with plans for next year as well.
"We had no extra out-of-pocket cost, it just took a little extra time to go through and make sure everything was cleaned out from planting through delivery," he says. "Our yield averages were just slightly higher than commodity soybeans, so the premium was a plus for us."
Kirkpatrick agrees added steps are no trouble. He spent a few extra minutes to clean out the planter, combine and auger to preserve identity. It just takes a little time to make sure your equipment is clean."
Stevens was surprised the process is not more complex. "We will continue to grow them. They work well in our rotation and we are only five miles from the processor," he says.
Sanders encourages interested farmers to talk to their local seed representative and learn what is required before signing a contract. "The program continues to evolve, so know what all you need to do to be successful in the market," he says. "This is a tremendous opportunity."
Rebuild market share
According to the United Soybean Board (USB), the U.S. soybean industry has lost 4 billion pounds of oil demand annually since 2008. Trans fat labeling cut market share from 80 to 60%.
USB says high oleic demand could be more than nine billion pounds of U.S. soybean oil -- the oil from 808 million bushels -- cumulatively to the food and industrial sectors.
"Future acreage will be significant, in the range of 15-20 million acres in the next seven to nine years," says Sanders. "Some farmers may even become strictly high oleic growers."