Arkansas could become leader in non-GMO soybeans

By Ken Roseboro
Published: July 21, 2012

Category: Non-GMO Market News

Non-GMO soybeans, edamame

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Roundup resistant weeds leading soybean farmers to explore non-GMO opportunities.

Arkansas has the potential to be the major source of non-GMO soybean seed, beans, and products in the United States, according to Drew Oliver, an Arkansas farmer who heads the International Marketing and Industry Relations Committee of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board (ASPB).

Oliver was speaking at a May meeting of the ASPB in the Food Science Department of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Research and Extension Center.

Farmers looking for alternatives to GM soybeans

The majority of soybeans grown since the mid-1990s have been genetically modified, herbicide tolerant Roundup Ready varieties. However, constant exposure to Roundup herbicide has resulted in resistant weed populations, which has caused some farmers to plant non-GMO soybean seed and use more comprehensive weed management practices.

The Division of Agriculture’s soybean breeding program has produced high yielding, Arkansas adapted non-GMO varieties that are marketed by the state’s seed industry. Arkansas is a leading state in the production and marketing of soybean seed, and the ninth leading soybean producing state, harvesting 3.38 million metric tons in 2011.

Consumers who prefer food labeled as free of GM ingredients have created a growing market for non-GMO soybean food products. Some Arkansas farmers grow non-GMO soybeans under contract with companies or marketing groups for production of non-GMO soy products such as edamame, tofu, soymilk, natto, and others.

Nation’s first edamame processing plant

The Division of Agriculture breeding program supported by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and conducted by Professor Pengyin Chen includes development of improved non-GMO soybean varieties for specialty food markets in addition to commodity soybean varieties.

Lanny Ashlock, ASPB director of research, said Chen is one of the leading breeders of specialty market soybeans in the South. His “Kirksey” vegetable soybean variety is being grown by Arkansas farmers for wide-scale marketing of edamame products from the nation’s first edamame processing plant in Mulberry by Arkansas Vegetable Soybean and Edamame, Inc. (AVS).

AVS is contracting with farmers to grow 900 acres of edamame in 2012. “We anticipate doubling the acreage in 2013, and adding a second (processing) line in 2014,” said Kelly Cartwright, AVS chief operating officer.

Oliver said objectives of his ASPB committee include gathering data on current and potential non-GMO soybean production and marketing opportunities for Arkansas farmers and specific products and markets ripe for development.

Specialty soybean lines in Chen’s Division of Agriculture breeding program are under evaluation for potential release in 2013. They include lines for production of edamame vegetable soybeans, tofu, soymilk and natto, which is a fermented soy product.

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