Farmer Resources


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Specialty Soybeans: Are they Worth it?

Specialty soybeans, while less popular than regular soybeans, have a plethora of uses and demands. There are many different types of specialty soybeans, each with its own strengths. These beans are being developed right now to suit demand from specific markets. Consumers in the United States want to know where their soybeans are grown and reap the health benefits of eating them.

Soybean farmers are focused on boosting revenue and earning a premium while producing a high-quality crop, and specialty soybeans are a great way to achieve that goal. Because specialty soybeans are commonly grown under contract agreements, they can bring in a higher profit. These contract agreements give the grower and the buyer a chance to see eye-to-eye on special requirements and details. As a result of these contract agreements, buyers and growers tend to leave the deal satisfied with the outcome.

Many varieties of soy foods are created using specialty soybeans. Some commonly recognized soy foods in this category include tofu, tempeh, soy sauce, soy milk, and more. These beans are also used to produce healthy foods, meat alternatives, and soy nuts. Non-GMO soybeans are rising in popularity. Consumers are choosing to purchase this variety of soybeans in health food and grocery stores. Non-GMO soybeans have lower seed costs than commercial soybeans, however, this variety requires special herbicides at a higher cost.

Non-GMO soybeans differ in production methods as compared to conventional soybeans. An advantage to this variety, in particular, is lower seed costs. Farmers can save around 50 percent when purchasing non-GMO soybeans. One challenge that comes along with this type of bean is the use of herbicides. Not only are the herbicides required for growth a higher cost, but they are also more tedious to apply. The timing of herbicide applications on non-GMO soybean fields can be hard to control and keep track of. Farmers must be attentive to application times and processes. 

Aside from non-GMO soybeans, there has been a rise in demand for specialty soybeans such as high oleic and organic food-grade. These trends are expected to continue, considering the rise in demand for specialty soybeans, especially in health food stores. 

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SOYLEIC Varieties Provide Food Market With High-Value Soybean Oil

SOYLEIC, patented by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, is a non-GMO, high-oleic trait available for today’s soybean varieties, which results in high oleic oil and meal.

Through funding from the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), researchers at the University of Illinois are conducting a project focused on the development of high oleic, low linolenic (HOLL) soybean varieties that will be marketed under the SOYLEIC name. This is a source of high-quality soybean oil that can be used to win back the market share of soybean in the food industry and increase its industrial uses.

The goal of this research is to test and commercialize soybean varieties with improved seed oil quality to give growers new opportunities for producing soybean with a value-added trait and to increase demand for soybean oil. The varieties being developed have improved oil quality with greater than 80 percent oleic acid and less than three percent linolenic acid (high oleic and low linolenic or HOLL), which is achieved through combining two mutagenized and two naturally occurring genes which makes this a non-GMO source of HOLL oil.

This will allow the team to market non-GMO HOLL varieties, which will result in increased premiums, and makes it easy to combine HOLL oil with new GMO technology, which would require a lengthy and expensive approval process if HOLL oil was a GMO trait.

SOYLEIC soybean varieties provide the food market with a high-value, market-driven functional soybean oil, offering a solution to recent food labeling rules set in motion by health concerns with trans-fats. Federal regulations concerning trans fats have devalued commodity soybean oil and decreased or eliminated soybean oil in many food products.

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Find a Sweet Spot Growing Food Grade Soybeans

Dairy alternatives, or plant-based foods, are one of fastest growing food sectors. Consumers increasingly are trying almond or soy beverages instead of cow’s milk, for example. And the market is only going to grow, according to the Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance.

Globally, the group notes South Asia, especially, is poised for soy-based dairy analogue product growth, given health benefits of soy, an increasing vegetarian/vegan population, environmental consciousness and higher milk prices. The North Asia market for soyfoods and ingredients also is expanding and currently is valued at more than $2 billion. The Alliance anticipates a compound annual growth rate of 10 percent in that region during the next five years.

And while many soyfoods can be produced from commodity soybeans, the Alliance reports foods taste better and fulfill specific food property demands when they are manufactured from food grade varieties grown, harvested and shipped separately from commodity soybeans.

Handling also is different. Sales are typically buyer's call, which means farmers deliver their segregated contract soybeans from their bins to processors when requested by the buyer. A high priority is placed on traceability, so buyers know every step of the process from the producer.

Several farm publications have written good articles about food grade soybean production. This article shares information from participants in the food grade soybean trade.

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Making the Switch to Non-GMO Soybeans

If you’re looking to diversify your income stream and want to capture premium prices, growing non-GMO soybeans may be a good strategy for your farm.

While growing non-GMO soybeans requires different recordkeeping, crop inputs and identity preservation after harvest than GMO beans, farmers can tap into the expanding market. Check out some of the resources highlighted here to learn more about making the switch.

Shift in Agronomic Management. While you may spend less on non-GMO soybean seed versus traited seed, weed control may take up some of that savings and more time.

That’s because non-GMO soybeans will not tolerate the herbicides that are commonly used in GMO soybeans. This article from South Dakota State University Extension weeds field specialist Gared Shaffer discusses how weed management strategies themselves are not that different from GMO production even if the products used are not the same.

“First, we always need a weed-free start at planting. This means do not plant unless the weeds prior to planting are controlled. To give you some time for a post application and to give your soybeans a head start, make sure to apply a preemergence herbicide before planting. Then apply, if needed, a postemergence application when weeds are less than four to six inches tall, which may be anytime between two to six weeks after soybean emergence. Refer to herbicide label before application for proper methods and any restrictions,” Shaffer notes in the article.

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High Hopes for High Oleic

If you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the specialty soybean market to earn premiums, high oleic soybean production may be one path you want to explore.

The United Soybean Board (USB) has been investing checkoff dollars into the research and development of this market for the last 10 years or so, with the objective of creating high oleic soybean varieties that will meet the needs of both farmers and customers.

So, what are high oleic soybeans, and who wants to buy them?

When the Food & Drug Administration mandated that trans fats needed to be listed on food labels beginning in 2003, soybean farmers lost some of their cooking oil market. Soybean oil creates trans fats under some applications. So, researchers went to work to see how to solve that problem and keep soybean oil in the demand mix. High oleic soybeans were the solution.

High oleic soybeans produce oil with no trans fats, 20 percent less saturated fat and have properties that help the oil last longer on the shelf and in the fryer.

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