Today's soybean and consumer demand

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In my last two articles I've been focusing on Biologicals and the what's and why's of how important they can be to your farming operation. Today, I want to step back a little bit and look at the bigger picture. I want to tell you why all of this will impact your future and how your farming business can benefit from the changes that are taking place today in our culture.

Q: It's all about food, isn't it?

A: Yes. Occasionally, we get so deep into the woods that we forget we're in the forest. I know I do, sometimes. Here at the Farm Research Center, we've been doing a lot of planning about our 2015 research and what it is that we want to learn from our soybean studies this year. There are many things to understand about soybeans for sure, but at the end of all of our efforts, everything we do is about the food that we produce for people to consume.

Q: What do growers and producers want?

A: Growers and producers will tell you, "More yield and consistently high prices." What do manufacturers and processors want? Manufacturers and processors will tell you, "More protein, more oil and a higher quality oil that doesn't need hydrogenation... and stable prices." But there's a third group whose voice is becoming more of a factor in all of this and that is the voice of the consumer.

More and more consumers are transforming their diets, moving away from trans fats (hydrogenated oils) and turning to healthier choices. The clear trend is that consumers want even more choices. The people responsible for stocking the pantries and refrigerators of homes all across America (generally women, not to the exclusion of men, however) are making healthier choices for themselves and their families.

They're buying foods labeled "Trans Fat Free," "Organic," "Grass Fed," "Low Fat," "Sugar Free" and the like. Even my own wife has started buying a brand of milk that comes from cows that are given no growth hormones and "are provided a grazing area for their pleasure and comfort." Pleasure and comfort... really? But she argues that it's better for me and the kids and that I just need to drink it. So I drink it! I've teased her over this quite a bit, but the truth is that she represents the typical consumer and the strong consumer trend towards healthier dietary choices.

Q: What does this have to do with my soybeans?

A: I'm getting there. Late last year, the FDA announced that artificial trans fats in processed foods are not "generally recognized as safe" for use in food. We know where this is headed, don't we? Legislation. Add to that what we already know is happening with our food labeling law and the coming requirement that will mandate that GMO ingredients be declared on food packaging and the trend should be very clear. "Consumers of the future will be more of a factor in what you grow and how you grow it." That's the bottom line here, guys. If we don't respond to consumer demand and adapt our products to consumer needs, we run the risk of ending up like the carriage wheel manufacturers of old did. Just to be clear, I am not anti-GMO. In fact, the introduction of GMO technologies into farming practices have brought along quite a few benefits that have made my work easier and I like that.

Let me make a declaration: The soybeans you grow in the future will be different than the soybeans you grow today.

I'll explain... The U.S. soybean market has lost significant market-share over the past decade. Why? Because of consumer demand for foods prepared using healthier oils. Healthier oils that are stable for processing without undergoing hydrogenation, which leads to finished products that contain trans fats. That very large decrease in market share has meant an aggregate increase of market share for the likes of palm oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and others. One thing to note is that the cost of these alternative oils is quite a bit higher than soybean oil. So the fact that manufacturers have needed to convert to those other oils has come with some pain for them. But they did it anyway so as to satisfy the demand of consumers.

Having said all that, are you seeing what I'm seeing here? What needs to happen to ensure a vital and prosperous soybean market into the future is that we need a "better soybean." Not just any "better soybean." A better soybean that is truly better for everyone, including growers, producers, manufacturers, processors and finally, consumers.

Q: Where are farmers going to get a better soybean?

A: There has already been a significant investment of time and money by breeders, researchers and scientists in the development of a better soybean over the past several years. A soybean that meets the demands of all interested parties... yield, oil volume, oil quality, increased protein and stability during processing, without the need for hydrogenation. The end result is: high oleic. You may have heard those words floating around in news articles, or at the ag trade shows, or even from your crop consultant and seed rep. High oleic soybeans are a new type of soybean that is emerging from the University of Missouri in a non-GMO form and from the major seed companies in GMO form. In development for many years, we're finally seeing it come down our road. Just at the right time, too, what with all of the legislative activity and consumer demand for healthier food alternatives. High oleic soybeans contain more protein, more oil volume and oil of a higher quality that does not require hydrogenation. So it's a good soybean for manufacturers, processors and consumers.

In research supported by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, non-GMO varieties are being discovered at the University of Missouri, where breeders are seeing high oleic varieties that have yields in the top 20 percent of yield trials against top yielding varieties from all of the various seed sources. That means it's a good soybean for growers as well.

Q: So, what's the big picture?

A: What I'm seeing is a higher yielding, non-GMO (and GMO varieties, too), healthy soybean that is easier to process, less expensive to process and that will meet the growing demands of consumers well into the future. And I am pretty excited about that outlook for Missouri soybean farmers.

There's a lot more to say about high oleic soybeans. You can look to hearing me say more about this amazing soybean innovation in the near future.

Moving on... I have responded to more phone calls and emails about Biologicals than I can count. Many of you are confirming what we here on the research farm know to be true, that plant health leads to higher yields.

Q: Now the question becomes... I want to start trying some biologicals but don't want to spend very much. What should I do?

A: There are a wide variety of microbial formulations (Biologicals) on the market today and more are coming. In fact, three of the major seed companies have bought biological manufacturers or partnered with them because of the research that shows just how well these health-boosting compounds work to improve yields. It's true that genetics are an important part of a soybean seed. But genetics can only get us so far. A healthy environment is proving to be the next essential ingredient after good genetics. And biological formulations get us a healthier plant environment.

For those growers who want to try some of the less expensive biological formulations just to see what happens, I would recommend a foliar application of a microbial bio-fungicide. A formulation like that can be had for under $2.50 per acre and it will fight against fungal diseases while adding a nice boost of health and energy. Some growers are reporting that they are seeing reduced insect pressure from this type of formulation because of some of the included ingredients, which bugs and pests cannot digest. Some growers say they have eliminated their late pesticide application altogether because of the results they've seen.

Another way to dip your toe into the biological waters would be to start with a program that uses a more powerful formulation, one that has more strains of bacteria and does more to impact plant health and yield and then only apply it to portion of your acres. Run a side-by-side comparison of your acres with Biologicals applied to them then compare the yield to your check acres. The results might surprise you. That's what I do here on the research farm, although we run a lot of different tests at the same time on a lot of acres.

I urge you to try a biological formulation of some sort, even something that's inexpensive on a small plot of acres. I don't think you'll be disappointed. And if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me with the contact details provided in my bio and I'll do my best to help you out.

See you next time!

Contact John at johno@agteampro. com, or t MOF2, LLC - PO Box 401, Garden City, MO 64747. John can also be reached by phone at 816-773-6018.