Demystifying a profitable opportunity for Manitoba farmers
Toban Dyck, Writer and Farmer – Spring 2022 Pulse Beat
Brent Kosie is Sevita International’s sales and contracting manager for western Canada. He sells food-grade soybean seed to Manitoba farmers, contracting with them to feed what is a growing, global market.
The food-grade soybean market is growing, with stable and steady exports heading to Japan and now a growing number of shipments going to China to produce products such as tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, and more. The crop represents a real and profitable opportunity for Manitoba’s farmers. Sevita has soybean varieties that are bred for Manitoba fields that have the qualities demanded from food manufacturers
If, like me, you’ve heard about food-grade soybeans and non-GM soybeans in relation to GM soybeans, there are some distinctions to be made. Food- grade soybeans are, indeed, a type of non-GM product, but with higher quality standards and traceability. Food-grade soys are pointed directly at the human consumption market and, because of this, some attention needs to be paid to the specifications around growing them.
Among these specifications is protein levels. The market for food-grade soybeans prefers higher protein levels surpassing 40 percent, which varieties are bred to produce and, as Kosie assures me, farmers have always achieved.
While Kosie represents Sevita International, a Canadian seed company with Manitoba distribution through Ceres Global Seeds, there are other food- grade soybean companies, such as Prograin, that also offer local contracts.
I’ve known about the opportunity to grow food-grade soys in Manitoba for a while, and I’ve even heard positive reports from the farmers here who have produced them. It is upon this sentiment where my chat with Kosie began.
“I THINK WHAT a lot of people don’t realize is that this program even exists. Just because there’s not a lot of people talking about it,” said Kosie. “A lot of growers have gotten used to the Roundup-Ready 2 Xtend® system with soybeans, and it’s working well for them. For somebody that is able to do a little extra management and a little bit more, say, record keeping, there’s a nice premium for them at the end of the day.”
Much of the criticism surrounding moving to a non-GM or food-grade soybean is the extra work it’ll entail for farmers. In addition to that, many farmers are unaware and/or skeptical of the herbicides available for such crops.
“I think part of it is to educate growers on the opportunity. And it’s one of the reasons that Sevita brought me on board,” said Kosie. “We need somebody out here ringing the bell and saying, ‘Hey, here’s an opportunity we would like you to consider.’”
Introducing new crops into an established rotation can be tricky. Each type and each variety comes with its own set of considerations. Food-grade soybeans are no exception to this. But, as Kosie emphasized throughout our chat, it is not as difficult nor as disruptive as people might think.
When I think about growing something new and novel on our farm, I like the steps spelled out for me as clearly and as succinctly, as possible. Hoping that you, too, want to know exactly how to get into growing food-grade soybeans, I asked Kosie to walk readers through the process. “First and foremost, the most important thing to consider is field selection. We want to have a field that has a lower population of weeds. For example, kochia. We all know how nasty kochia can be. It can be a difficult weed to control in many special crops. So, we like to ask that growers plan ahead on what sort of field they’re going to select for food-grade soybeans. We don’t want it to be a last-minute decision where, ‘Oh, I’ve just got this open 80 acres off to the side here that I haven’t decided what I’m doing with yet; we’ll just throw some food-grade soybeans in there and see what happens.’”
The food-grade and non-GM soybean market garners a knee-jerk response from some farmers, who may have doubts over the efficacy of the herbicides and pesticides approved for use on such a speciality crop. Glyphosate has set the bar quite high and its strong association with the words ‘inexpensive’ and ‘effective’ have made it hard for many farmers to take other chemistries seriously.
Weed management in food-grade soybeans requires some extra attentiveness, but not if you’re used to growing speciality crops.
We have many more tools in the toolbox when it comes to weed control, compared to say 15–20 years ago. There are a number of pre-plant herbicides that can be sprayed on the soil before and after planting that are very, very effective at controlling weeds early, especially some of the hard to kill weeds like kochia, lambsquarters and red-root pigweed. There are herbicides that do a bang-up job of controlling those weeds.
Post-emergent chemistries have improved, as well, for food-grade soybeans. But they are still not going to be as effective as Roundup or dicamba. It’s best to let the pre-plant herbicides do the heavy lifting for the in-crop herbicide. And if all goes right, you should have a very clean field and be off to the races.
The other nice thing about these new pre-emerge chemistries is that they belong to unique chemistry groups. They’re in the 14 and 15 group of herbicides, which gives growers an opportunity to introduce unique modes of action on their farms.
Sevita and Prograin have varieties suitable for many of Manitoba’s diverse growing conditions, from longer to shorter season offerings.
And, when it comes to yield, reports from the farmers in Manitoba currently growing them, suggest that bushels per acre are on-par with GM soys, if not slightly above.
When it comes to the extra record keeping and management Kosie referred to earlier on, there are only a few extra things that the growers need to do — clean out your seeding equipment and spend a bit of time on the combine to make sure that there’s no potential GM contamination, and the same goes for your conveyors or augers, trucks and storage bins.
All of this, however, doesn’t add up to any more work than if, say, you were growing pedigreed seed soybeans. It’s a little bit of extra work most farmers are willing to do if it means receiving a premium price for their crop. Farmers have received anywhere from $2 to $2.50 per bushel more than the bid from their local elevator for growing a crop that, once all the numbers are crunched, doesn’t cost any more to grow than GM soys.
In addition to being mindful of cross-contamination, there are only two reports that farmers need to fill out throughout the growing season: a pre-harvest report and a post-harvest report. The former being a declaration that you’ve cleaned your equipment, when you seeded and what and when you sprayed. The latter being a similar declaration of cleanliness related to combines and bins, as well as harvest dates and production estimates.
“When you think about it, it’s not that big of a job,” said Kosie. “They’re one-pagers, and not anything that’s going to be that difficult to do, and I haven’t had anybody complain about it. Then we just need a map of the field, which could be drawn by hand or supplied through farm-management software.”
While there are no notable agronomic challenges to growing food-grade soybeans in Manitoba, there are potential logistical hurdles for the seed and export company. Manitoba just doesn’t receive as many shipping containers as, say, Ontario or Quebec. As most of the product is destined for the Vancouver port, Manitoba has the proximity advantage. It just needs more containers.
Kosie says overcoming this hurdle requires more planning on his end, a challenge he’s well aware of and capable of tackling.
“We process it here. It gets packaged to the export customer’s desire, and then we put it into a shipping container and then it heads west.”
The premium, a stable market and the auxiliary benefits of introducing a diversified herbicide program on your farm make growing food-grade soybeans an opportunity Manitoba farmers should at least consider. ■
If you’re interested in growing food-grade soybeans, contact: