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Buyers are still looking for new, non-GMO, organic bean acres

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — This region’s buyers of organic and non-genetically modified (GMO) soybeans are looking for acres to fill 2018 contracts, and a longtime Michigan soy processor is expanding to meet growing global demand for identity-preserved soy products.

Although buyers report some growing demand for soybeans used in organic and non-GMO animal feed, soy for human consumption still anchors the specialty soybean category. “For us, we’re looking more at the food-grade side,” explained Ashley Brown, grain merchandiser at Clarkson Grain.

Clarkson, headquartered in Cerro Gordo, Ill., has long purchased specialty soybeans for export. “Some soybeans stay in the U.S., but we do export quite a bit,” she said.

International demand for organic and non-GMO soybeans is looking strong for next year. “We are looking for growers for 2018, for both our organic and non-GMO programs.”

Growing non-GMO varieties can be a way for producers to enter specialty soybean production. Clarkson’s premiums for its non-GMO program typically range from $1.50-$1.70 per bushel, depending on the variety.

“Some varieties may have yield drag or be more difficult to grow, so buyers try to adjust premiums accordingly,” said Brown. “All contracts are for delivery to our Mattoon (Illinois) facility,” so producers need to keep transportation costs in mind when considering production.

There are solid marketing opportunities for Michigan growers interested in growing non-GMO soybeans, said Ben Glass, seed services manager at Zeeland Farm Services, which is actively sourcing non-GMO soybeans for crushing. “We are looking for acres,” he said.

Growers working with Zeeland must use non-GMO seed and contract with the company, which conducts GMO testing on the soybeans it receives. The company’s contracts may be attractive to growers, according to Glass. “It’s not a true buyer’s call, giving it more flexibility.” A $1.50 premium per bushel is typical in Zeeland’s non-GMO program, he said.

Zeeland Farm Services has seen U.S. market demand grow for non-GMO soy food products. The company sells six soybean oils, under its Zoye label, that are Non-GMO Project verified. The oil is sold at stores in the Meijer and Spartan grocery chains, and at other Midwest food retailers, and used by foodservice providers.

Darwin Rader, Zeeland’s international sales manager, said the company has started to see demand increases for non-GMO soy meal and other animal feed ingredients in the United States. In August, Zeeland announced Non-GMO Project verification for four of its soybean meals, as well as non-GMO soybean hulls.

“The last five years, the domestic market has grown for non-GMO beans, a lot from dairy and poultry feed,” said Rader.

There are some growing niches for non-GMO livestock and poultry feeds, where non-GMO price points can be more feasible for producers than sourcing organic feed grains.

“We have seen a little bit of interest in non-GMO beans for feed,” said Brown. Pricing points for organic soybeans appear to be limiting interest by feed buyers, she added – “Occasionally we’ll provide a load for someone roasting organic beans for feed.”

Organic grains are by definition non-GMO, and the organic sector remains the biggest driver of increasing non-GMO corn and soybean production in the United States. There was a 17 percent increase in organic certifications of corn growers and a 26 percent increase in organic soybean certifications, according to a November report from Mercaris, a Maryland consulting firm focused on integrity-preserved food ingredients.

Acreage for organic corn, wheat, oats and soy increased 30 percent over 2016 estimates, according to the Mercaris report, released at the Organic and Non-GMO Forum in St. Louis last month.