Proponents: China, corn price bode well

FARGO, N.D. -- Food-grade soybean industry players say the Red River Valley region now grows 500,000 to 600,000 acres of the crop for the market, and is poised for more growth.

Rick Brandenburger

FARGO, N.D. -- Food-grade soybean industry players say the Red River Valley region now grows 500,000 to 600,000 acres of the crop for the market, and is poised for more growth.

The Northern Food Grade Soybean Association hosted a media tour on July 22, stopping at farms and processing companies that have built the industry since the 1970s and 1980s. The competitors increasingly are working together on common interests and say it's time more growers got involved in growing the non-genetically modified crop.

The first-of-its-kind media tour offered a rare glimpse into the development and interests of several of the industry's key players.

China, the frontier

Rick Brandenburger, president of Richland IFC Inc. in Breckenridge, Minn., gave a tour of his company's Dwight, N.D., warehouse and processing plant. Richland IFC started processing food-grade soybeans in the late 1970s.


"China's our next frontier as a food-grade (soybean) group," Brandenburger said. China uses 15 million metric tons of soybeans for food manufacturing, but none of those are from the U.S.

"That's 10 times the size of the Japanese food (soy) market. It's like 10 Japans, sitting there, waiting," Brandenburger said.

If trade obstacles can be overcome, it's estimated that China will be a net importer of food-grade soybeans by 2017.

"If we were to capture just 5 percent of that market, that brings on another 2 million acres of food-grade production at premium levels for China," Brandenburger said.

Food-grade farm

Jon Miller is president of Brushvale Seed Inc., north of Breckenridge, Minn., a food-grade seed processor since the 1980s. Miller said Brushvale produces only food-grade soybeans for nonorganic markets. It exports to nine Asian countries, trucking containers to shipping rail yards in Minneapolis or sending bulk beans on rail cars to domestic markets.

Jon Miller said prospects for food-grade soybeans look brighter with lower corn prices, and with herbicide resistance. "We're hoping it expands, because the market does seem to be there -- especially for certain varieties," he said.

Miller said genetically modified soybean varieties grown in the region typically have 34 or 35 percent protein. The food-grade market, including tofu, prefers higher proteins, around 36 to 37 percent.


The food-grade soybean companies each have their own breeding programs or experimental varieties of the tofu-specialized natto beans, used primarily to make a fermented bean product in Japan.

Members of the association are working together to produce their own varieties of larger beans intended primarily for the soy milk market, both domestically and internationally.

Scott Sinner and Pat Bresnahan, both partners in SB&B food and farming entities, said the variety development is a key to growing the industry.

"It offers some control, to make sure you maintain non-GMO standards, and (seed) quantity as well," said Bresnahan. The other goal is finding resistance to maladies such as soybean cyst and phytophthora root rot, as well as developing characteristics against lodging, and for optimal pod height for harvest.


Standard varieties from public and private sources exist, but the association is working to build its own alternative. If successful, royalties would be paid to the association rather than to a private company. Steve Fox of Unity Seed in Casselton, N.D., says the association has plots from Brookings, S.D., to Groton, S.D., and from Wahpeton, N.D., to Crookston, Minn., and is considering some plots in western North Dakota.

Katie Pinke, a marketing consultant from Wishek, N.D., organized the tour. She noted the industry received $35,000 from the state Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and kicked in an additional $20,000.


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