Most of the soybeans grown in Minnesota, called conventional soybeans, are often used for animal feed. The oil has a wide variety of uses, including biodiesel.
Seven to 8% of Minnesota’s soybean fields are planted with food-grade soybeans. Farmers like Schrader plant them for “higher farm profitability.” The premiums he gets are higher than what he gets for his conventional soybeans, although the yields are often lower. Schrader first tried food-grade soybeans on his farm about 20 years ago and has been planting them regularly for the last 10 years. He expects demand to be “off the charts” in the coming years, especially as more plant-based meat and dairy alternatives hit the market.
“Agronomically, there is little difference between the two types of soybeans, except that food-grade soybeans are not bred to withstand herbicides; they are not genetically modified,” said Seth Naeve, a soybean specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension. “So Extension funds are valuable to many of these farmers who rely on more traditional weed control methods.” Food-grade soybeans also provide opportunities for soy breeders such as Aaron Lorenz of the University of Minnesota to research unique traits that exporting companies look for.
NOT WITHOUT CHALLENGES
“Good weed management is critical for food grade soybeans,” said Jared Goplen, extension crop educator. “It is very important for growers to know their weeds as there are fewer weed control options for non-GMO crops.” Goplen also emphasizes to growers the need to manage the weed seed bank, the seeds that fall from cannabis plants into the ground and germinate later, to keep the problems manageable.
Schrader must also follow specific requirements to keep these soybeans separate from conventional soybeans in order to preserve their unique properties (a practice called preserving identity), including cleaning machines that can be used for both.
IT NEEDS A NETWORK
Food-grade soybean farmers contract processing companies that have customers in the US and abroad. Most of the demand for food-grade soybeans comes from Japan and other Asian countries, but soy-based foods have grown in popularity worldwide.
“These companies have a direct connection to food companies abroad that demand the high-quality, food-grade soybeans that Minnesota farmers provide,” said Eric Wenberg, executive director of the Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance in Mankato, which represents companies that work with farmers. on identity preserved field crops.
Buyers are looking for properties such as higher protein content in soybeans, higher sugar content and soybeans with a specific taste. “Public science at land-funded universities is vital for the industry to meet these demands,” Wenberg says.