By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter
ST. LOUIS (DTN) -- John Motter sees the future of the soybean industry when he surveys his high-oleic soybean fields in northwestern Ohio.
The beans don't look any different, but he hopes their oil will help the industry recover from FDA's decision more than a decade ago to start phasing out trans-fats, the result of hydrogenated oils.
The beans Motter grows near Jenera, Ohio, are genetically engineered to produce oil that has no trans-fats, lower linolenic levels and produce higher levels of oleic acid than commodity soybeans. That translates to a healthier oil profile and more stable cooking oil. It also eliminates the need for hydrogenation.
Since a trans-fat labeling law went into effect in 2006, the United Soybean Board estimates the soybean industry has lost 4 billion pounds of soy oil demand each year, which translates to 359 million bushels of soybeans.
Motter hopes his specialty beans could change that. "I'll do whatever it takes to win back that 4 billion pounds of market share that we have lost to high-oleic canola and palm oil," he said. "We need to be growing our oil products domestically."
In November of 2013, FDA went a step further and proposed removing the GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) status from partially hydrogenated oils. In a letter to FDA in March, the American Soybean Association estimated the move could cost soybean farmers up to $1.6 billion a year in lost demand since up to 2.5 billion pounds of soybean oil are still partially hydrogenated.
Motter said the industry needs more time to prepare for a total ban on partially hydrogenated oils, especially since the full commercial release of the two high-oleic traits on the market has been delayed as companies wait for international import approvals.
"When we're not yet able to get this trait approved in Europe, it's pretty hard to have the government on the other side, saying they're going to take away the [GRAS] status of the products we're currently using," he said. "It's almost like they're kicking my left foot out from under me on one side, and then kicking the right foot out on the other side. How do you expect to me to stand?"
TWO TRAITS WAITING IN THE WINGS
Motter's position as a farmer-director for the United Soybean Board allowed him to get an early jump on high-oleic soybean production. In 2011, he was one of a dozen growers to try out Pioneer's Plenish high-oleic beans. In 2012, he added Monsanto's Vistive Gold high-oleic beans to the line-up and now divides all his soybean acres between the two varieties.
"I call it a dead heat," he said of their performance. "Both [companies] have put their trait in their most elite hybrids."
Pioneer expects more than 1,000 growers in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania to plant up to 300,000 acres of Plenish beans in 2015, Pioneer's director of food and industry markets Russ Sanders said. The company helps arrange contracts for their growers with participating processors like ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Perdue Agribusiness.
Monsanto is targeting acres in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan under their Ground Breakers Program, designed for traits that are not yet commercially launched and retain stewardship requirements. Vistive Gold growers in Michigan will send their beans to Zeeland Farm Services, a Michigan-based soybean crusher and processor, said Sarah Vacek, Monsanto's soybean quality traits product manager.
Both companies are still awaiting import approvals from some key export countries. Monsanto hopes to launch Vistive Gold commercially in 2016 if China and the EU come through with their approvals. Pioneer is only waiting on EU approval, which they expect sometime in 2015, Sanders said.
A PUBLIC TRAIT TO AMP UP ACRES
For now, Monsanto and Pioneer's high-oleic traits are only available in maturity groups II and III, which limits the number of growers capable of adopting them. The United Soybean Board is providing both companies with $4 million a year for five years to expand the trait into more maturity groups.
More immediately, a multi-university effort is underway to produce a wider selection of soybean varieties that produce a non-GMO high-oleic trait discovered by University of Missouri scientists.
The trait is the product of two mutant genes, which are being incorporated into university breeding trials in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, and Tennessee.
A handful of high-oleic soybean varieties in Maturity Groups I and II could be available by 2016, and by 2018, available high-oleic varieties will span Maturity Groups 0 to VII, said Grover Shannon, a University of Missouri scientist who co-discovered the genes with USDA plant scientist Kristin Bilyeu.
Tests have shown the two genes can produce high-oleic and high-protein soybeans with competitive yields that farmers are likely to find worthwhile, Shannon said.
"The neat thing about it is that while a lot of mutant genes will have a negative effect on yield, with these genes, the beans can actually yield better," he said. "The overall soybean will be better -- not just the oil but also the meal."
Since the public high-oleic trait is the product of traditional breeding, any varieties sporting it can also avoid the costly, time-consuming process of deregulation that Monsanto and Pioneer's traits are bogged down in, Shannon added.
IN THE FIELD
Until all export markets are on board, growing high-oleic beans for Monsanto or Pioneer requires stewardship steps like cleaning combines and planters and segregating the beans during planting and harvest.
Motter said the premiums both companies offer on their high-oleic beans make up for the added time and effort. "When I consider the extra transportation costs, the time I have to spend cleaning, and the time I have to spend documenting versus the premium, I'm paying myself about $100 an hour," he explained.
A soybean industry group called QUALISOY recently released a calculator that helps farmers determine if growing identity-preserved (IP) soybeans like high-oleic varieties makes sense economically. The calculator takes into account the various costs of handling and segregating IP beans, as well as the potential added profits. You can access it here: http://goo.gl/….
Motter is confident that when commercialization of the traits allows stewardship requirements to fall away and eases cross-contamination fears, the soybean industry will embrace high-oleic soybeans more readily.
"As we get global approvals, there will be less excuses not to grow a specialty bean," he predicted. "I think farmers will do the right thing when the right thing doesn't inconvenience them."
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at email@example.com
Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee.
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