One change in food labeling has hit the soybean industry hard. The requirement to label foods with trans fat content higher than .5 grams per serving, and bad press for those fats and hydrogenated soybean oils have hit food-based soybean market hard.
"The U.S. soybean industry lost 4 billion pounds of edible oil in each market year since 2008," says Jim Stillman, chair, United Soybean Board. "That's oil from 359 million bushels of soybeans, and we're at risk to lose another 700 million pounds in the market."
For Stillman, and USB, the answer to taking on the challenge may be simple: "The key for gaining this back is high oleic soybeans." He explains that the trait has a range of benefits for users that could bring back market share lost to competitive oils like palm and palm kernel oil.
The move to high oleic oils could create demand for 8 billion pounds of oil in the future.
Jim Call, a Madison, Minn., grower and vice president of USB explains that currently high oleic soybeans are available in only a handful of states. "And food companies are not familiar with the stability and functionality [of the technology}."
High oleic soybean oil has a longer shelf life, is more fryer stable and can be used in a range of applications without hydrogenation. USB and its members are working with suppliers of the technology to expand the market potential of the oil as well. "We are reaching out to food companies to create demand, providing samples to companies and manufacturers to test in their operations," Call says.
The effort also involves working with chefs in food demonstrations to help attract the attention of larger food customers and to help the food sector understand the value of the technology.
Of course, to take back that market means farmers have to produce the soybeans to get that oil, and those soybeans can't be yield laggers.
John Matter, a northwest Ohio grower, has been raising high oleic soybeans on his farm to "help our industry to the next level," he says. "We need to embrace the new technology that is available to us as growers."
His high-oleic soybeans were his second-highest performing soybeans on his farm when he first started raising the crop. In fact, the beans did so well that for 2013 100% of his soybeans will be high-oleic varieties.
This is a key issue for soybean companies and the farmers that may raise the crop - the beans themselves have to be yield performers. The current premium - 50 cents per bushel - along with the solid yield provides profit potential.
Soybean breeders are also working on varieties to expand acreage from the eastern Corn Belt into higher soybean production areas. A key part of that effort will also include getting processors up to speed in those markets to develop a ready market.
The effort won't be simple, and it involves more work on regulatory issues - the high oleic varieties are biotech-based - to open more markets (DuPont Pioneer soybeans are approved in all global markets but Europe at this time). It's a joint effort by farmers and industry to reclaim market share that started slipping away with the simple removal of one phrase from a food label: trans fat.