Off-color soybeans prompt USDA to take comments on changing standards

A growing number of soybeans are showing up with a seed coat something other than yellow. The soybeans that often have a large area that is often more brown are called soybeans of other colors, or SBOC.

SBOC 1.jpg
Some soybeans are showing are showing more color variation, such as brown or dark gray seed coats, which can be an issue when it comes to grade certification by federal inspectors.
Shawn Conley / University of Wisconsin
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WASHINGTON — With an increase in off-color soybeans , the U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin taking comments on possible changes to the grading standards for soybeans.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on Nov. 8 announced that the Federal Grain and Inspection Service will publish a proposed rule seeking public comment on a proposal to change the U.S. standards for soybeans to address “Soybeans of Other Colors” or SBOC.

Agricultural Marketing Service will publish this proposed rule on the Federal Register and will take comments at that time. It has not said when the comment period will open.

Soybeans are showing up with darker areas on the seed coat, but experts say that should not affect the quality of the bean.
Shawn Conley / University of Wisconsin

Under the authority of federal law, USDA established the soybean standards to help in the marketing of soybeans. Color has served as a grading factor for determining soybean quality. The Federal Grain and Inspection Service said color could be considered an informational factor that does not impact soybean grade determinations.

The announcement said USDA has recently received numerous requests from representatives of U.S. soybean producers and grain traders to remove SBOC as a grade-determining factor for describing the quality for soybeans — which often fall under No. 1 or No. 2 yellow soybeans, but off-color soybeans can result in a lower grade.


Lower grades can result in a lower price for the farmer. USDA will open up a formal comment period on the issue.

“The U.S. is only one of two or three countries that includes color as a grade standard. Our competitors in South America do not. It puts our growers at a disadvantage in the marketplace,” American Soybean Association Director of Government Affairs Virginia Houston said in response to the USDA announcement.

USDA said SBOC levels are usually low, rarely impacting the grade of soybeans. But for the past two years, the soybean industry has experienced an increased presence of SBOC.

At the request of the Grain Inspection Advisory Committee, the Federal Grain and Inspection Service conducted a study to evaluate whether color had an impact on the quality of soybean protein and oil.

The study looked at 100 soybean samples containing SBOC collected in July and August from geographically diverse areas. The samples contained between 2% and 6.9% off-color soybeans, with all but seven samples being graded No. 3 or No. 4 yellow soybeans; the remaining seven graded at No. 2.

The study found no significant differences in official protein or oil content for the off-color beans. The study can be found on USDA’s AMS-FGIS SBOC resource page .

Industry observers, such as the University of Minnesota’s Seth Naeve, have said the problem lies mostly with Enlist E3 soybeans. Corteva Agriscience, which developed Enlist soybeans, says the issue is not exclusive to Enlist E3 beans.

The color variation may appear as brown or dark gray blotches or bands on the seed coats.


Under federal regulations, the USDA “is authorized to amend or revoke such standards or procedures whenever the necessities of the trade may require.” But changes to standards may take more than a year to implement.

Reach Jeff Beach at or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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