High oleic soybeans were supposed to become a hot commodity. Yet, after years of promotion, acreage still lags expectations.
Since 2013, the United Soybean Board (USB) has invested at least $62 million to help build both demand and acreage for high oleic soybeans, including $20 million in fiscal year 2019. In 2013, USB officials cited that without major checkoff investment, high oleic beans might only account for 5% of acres in 2020. Last year, that would have translated to about 3.8 million acres of the specialty crop, but instead, only 500,000 acres of high oleic soybeans were planted in 2019.
High oleic soybeans were the soybean industry's answer when the Food and Drug Administration's move to get trans fats out of food threatened traditional soybean oil. The hope was, and still is, that high oleic would help regain market share and reduce imports of palm and canola oils.
"High oleic offers us the opportunity to take back a significant portion of that over time," says John Jansen, vice president of oil strategy for USB. He estimates the potential could displace 50% of the market lost to other food-grade oils by 2025.
Acreage growth slowed last year, in part, because major growing areas in Indiana and Ohio were saturated with prevented-planting acres. Ideally, those areas will see recovery in 2020. "We had people who wanted the product and just couldn't get it," Jansen says.
During USB's December 2019 board meeting, the group again resolved to focus more research on the benefits of the oil. The industry goal is to immediately exceed 1 million acres and reach 16 million acres by 2026.
So far, high oleic soybean acreage has been concentrated mostly in Indiana, Ohio and the Delmarva region. USB estimates premiums to growers are around 50 cents per bushel.
Corteva Agriscience sells Plenish high oleic beans, a genetically modified (GM) variety, through the Pioneer brand. Bayer has discontinued its Vistive Gold high oleic offerings for 2020. Non-GMO seed companies active in the market include Benson Hill and Calyxt.
Last year, Calyxt focused contracting with growers in Minnesota and South Dakota. They are expanding into Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, setting up delivery points in those states to buy back contracted production.
Keith Blanks, Calyxt's senior vice president of sales and marketing, says high oleic soybean oil value lies in extending the shelf life of baked products and has a clean, neutral taste.
Kevin Wilson, a Walton, Indiana, farmer and USB director, has been growing Plenish soybeans for six years and will plant them again in 2020. He says one of the challenges is Plenish is mostly available in glyphosate-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 trait and many farmers are switching to other trait platforms, which has led to herbicide drift concerns.
Jansen says growth has also been slowed by food processors that have had to change labels multiple times because of health claims and want to minimize label changes. Food companies also go through extensive taste tests before making ingredient changes.
In January, USB began reaching out to 300 marketing executives for some of the largest end users for food ingredients to promote the health and sustainability aspects of high oleic soy.
"The marketing folks see the full benefit of what the consumers are focusing on right now, which is sustainability, traceability, identifying where their food comes from, understanding that this food is domestic and not coming from half a world away," Jansen says. "We can certainly say for U.S. soy, it is not deforesting or tied to slave labor or indigenous people displacement."
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