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Published May 06, 2013, 10:13 AM

Minn. soybeans sprout up in Korea

Through a partnership with Henry Kim, president of United Soy Food, Goldkim soybeans were born. Kim says a lot of shipping containers come into the U.S. from Korea, China and Japan full and about 70 percent return empty.

By: Crystal Day, Forum News Service

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — A Minnesota soybean is tipping the global import/export business in the region’s favor. Six years ago, Alexandria resident and former farmer Craig Damstrom fostered an idea to develop a cash crop in the area — not the legume itself, but its seed.

Damstrom says the U.S., Argentina and Brazil export soybeans, which adds a much needed north-and-south exchange in addition to the usual east-to- west from China. Soy seeds are in high demand in South Korea since China has been exporting less and consuming more of its own product, Damstrom explains.

Through a partnership with Henry Kim, president of United Soy Food, Goldkim soybeans were born. Kim says a lot of shipping containers come into the U.S. from Korea, China and Japan full and about 70 percent return empty.

“We use those containers for a low rate,” Kim says.

Goldkim is a nongenetically modified soybean. A lot of farmers have been planting genetically modified, or GMO, beans and corn that have an anti-pest gene combined with the seed’s DNA. Some people are reluctant to adopt a scientifically altered food substance into their diets, which is why Damstrom emphasizes that his development not be tainted.

“Even though it’s insecticidal or poisonous to insects and not to man, there are still people who have concerns about GMO worldwide,” Damstrom says.

Damstrom farmed 1,500 acres outside Alexandria for almost 25 years. In 2007, he introduced non-GMO soybeans to his land. He tested five plots and one variety would later be known as Goldkim.

“Producing and raising food-grade soybeans is not the norm in this area,” Damstrom says.

Filling a niche

Jim Orf from the University of Minnesota is credited with developing the soybean variety that had the necessary characteristics sought by the Asian market.

“It’s a niche market,” says consultant Del Glanzer.

Glanzer has worked with Damstrom on Goldkim and other development projects in the past. Glanzer’s Consulting has been operating in the Alexandria area since 1976.

Glanzer compares Goldkim to alfalfa sprouts, but larger. Goldkim is a type of natto soybean, a specialty bean that is known for sprouting. The bean is used in soups, salads and eaten solo.

Women still rule the kitchens in most Korean households. “It’s Korean culture that women shop in the supermarket and prepare meals,” Kim says. “But nowadays, many young men also prepare meals; just not a high percentage.”

Damstrom says Korean housewives want a soybean that has a high germination rate that can grow a long, thin stalk. The thinner a stalk, the more concentrated the nutrients.

Goldkim seeds produce a stalk reaching 6 inches in height and have a 97 percent germination rate. The seeds from Minnesota are smaller than those typically exported from China, Damstrom says. Glanzer says they are about half the size of a “normal” soybean.

Sprouting process

A Korean family might eat 340 to 680 seeds a day. Seeds are purchased dry and spread out in germination pots about the size of a shoe box until they are ready to be harvested.

A traditional Japanese preparation for natto is made by fermenting soybeans in Bacillus subtilis. The end result is a sticky, slimy, pungent smelling, stringy, acquired-taste probiotic food.

Although Damstrom has not been to South Korea, he had traveled with Kim to China to explore the markets.

“We liked it,” he says.

United Soy Food has an office in Alexandria and headquarters in New Jersey. Kim spends much of his time in South Korea.

Damstrom has sold his farm, but remains dedicated to spreading the word to area farmers. He says the rate of return is high. Goldkim will purchase the seed for $20 a bushel. One bushel, 60 pounds, can yield 336,000 seeds.

“These beans have been grown in this area,” Damstrom says. “Basically, a lot of the beans have come from the Murdock, Minn., area, but there is production in this area as well.”

Falk’s Seed Farm in Murdock, about an hour’s drive south of Alexandria, prepares the soy seed for export to South Korea. Falk’s has been handling food grade soybeans for more than 20 years.

Farmers interested in learning more about Goldkim soy seeds can call Craig Damstrom at 651-270-2943, Falk’s Seed Farm at 320-875-4341, Del Glanzer at 320-760-2149 or Henry Kim at 201- 482-

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