Driven by generous premiums and health-conscious consumers, U.S. farmers will more than double the production of low linolenic soybeans next year, say officials at the United Soybean Board. USB, the Soyfoods Council and the Iowa Soybean Association held a joint press conference Tuesday at the Farm Progress Show in Amana, Iowa, to tout the growing market for low-lin soybeans.
"This past year seed was available to produce 450 million pounds of low-lin oil," says Chuck Myers, a USB director and farmer from Lyons, Neb. "That accounts for nearly 950,000 acres. By 2007 more than 2.5 million acres could be planted to low-lin beans."
Low-linolenic soybeans are in hot demand right now because they allow processors and food companies to skip the hydrogenation process that causes trans fatty acids, a growing health concern. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires that the amount of grams of trans fats be clearly identified on food labels.
Soy oil is the number one food oil in the United States, representing 80% of all food oil consumed here. Hydrogenation improves shelf-life and allows food companies to replace saturated fats form animals with unsaturated fats from soy oil.
Major players in the low-lin market are Monsanto with Vistive, Pioneer with Treus, and Asoyia, a group of Iowa farmers working with a processor in Cedar Rapids. Vistive has 500,000 acres of low-lin this year and expects to have three to five times that many acres next year. Pioneer's Treus, formerly known as Nutrium, had 200,000 acres this year and expects that to double next year.
Part of what's driving the rapid increase in acreage is the willingness to pay premium incentives to farmer growers. "In some cases, farmers could receive an additional 40 cents per bushel or higher," says Jim Legvold, a USB director and farmer from Vincent, Iowa.
That premium is attractive to farmers concerned about the bottom line on their operations, he adds. "There's a great opportunity to increase low lin, but it won't happen unless it's practical on the farm."
Another factor fueling the growth is the relatively simple management restrictions. Myers says low-lin is a 'soft' Identity Preserved crop, with fairly straightforward steps farmers can follow to fulfill their contracts. "It's not like a GMO where every little parts per billion might contaminate the whole load."
Farmers who plant low-lin might be directed to plant just one field to that variety to avoid contamination with conventional beans. They might also be told to sweep their trucks and bins, and flush their combine with low-lin before they start harvest.
"None of the extra management is a deal breaker, but you do have to dedicate a bin to low-lin if you're storing, and farmers don't like to fill their bins halfway," adds Myers.
"The key is that when you deliver it to the processor the load comes in 3% or under. The only problem can be when those beans are mixed with conventional soybeans."
Premiums offset potential risk from yield drag - a question that elicits different responses depending on which side of the IP coin you happen to work at. "Is there a yield drag with low-lin? Not if you talk to the seed companies," jokes Myers. "We have had some farmers who were disappointed in yield, but for the most part, it's not an issue. And, we have had 80% agree to re-sign to grow them again next year.
"I think any yield issues have been caused by having varieties that are not suited to certain growing areas," he explains. "And they are coming out with more and more varieties, that are better adapted to our growing seasons."
Kent Forbes, Production Systems Manger for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, says yield drag has not been an issue for the growers who signed up to plant the company's low-lin beans in 2005 or this year. "In 2005 we had only 35,000 acres and this year we have 200,000 acres, so obviously people are excited about it," he says. "This is the first time a Roundup bean has had a premium. That's what everyone has been waiting for."
USB has invested $9 million of checkoff funds in developing the market for low-lin since 2000.