A lack of processing capacity continues to hamper Ontario growth in higher-value oil soybeans.
Specialty oils have potential to be the next value-added commodity crop in Ontario, especially high-oleic and high-linoleic soybeans, but they are not quite ready for the field yet.
Why it matters: Ontario farmers are skilled in managing identity-preservation systems and that makes the province a great place to produce more value-added crops.
There’s nothing new about high-oleic soybeans. Pioneer has had its Plenish soybean line available for six years. However, there have been several barriers, especially relating to trade for the genetically modified soybeans.
Approval for the Plenish soybeans in the European Union came at the end of 2017 and China has also approved Monsanto (now Bayer) variety Vistive Gold.
High-oleic soybeans have about 75 per cent oleic content, which puts it on a similar status to olive oil as far as healthy oil content. It also lasts longer in a fryer than conventional soybean oil and is a higher yielding oil for industrial uses, such as in bio-based lubricants.
“For many of the same reasons it is very useful in food, it is useful in industrial applications,” said Rob Roe, of Oilseed Innovation Partners.
“The properties of the oil apply in industrial applications such as lubricants. Lubricants require oils to be stable with increased oxidative stability and stability under temperature and pressure.”
Oilseed Innovation Partners is involved in trying to drive market growth for bio-based products, such as lubricants made from soybeans. They recently partnered with Humber College and its arborist program to convince future arborists that bio-based bar and chain oil and engine oil for their chain saws, made from high-oleic oil soybeans, is a superior product from a performance and environment standpoint.
There have been trials in Ontario over the past eight years that show that the high oleic soybeans can be produced well, said Nicole Mackellar, market development manager with Grain Farmers of Ontario.
In 2010, she said, there were high-oleic soybeans grown in Ontario on a trial.
“Agronomically, they grew well, quite comparable to conventional soybeans,” said Mackellar. She said it makes sense that Ontario growers are interested in growing soybeans with specialty oils, because they have significant experience already growing identity-preserved premium crops.
However, it was obvious after the agronomic trials that the specialty beans need a domestic market.
In 2015 and 2016, GFO worked to create that market, with a project that worked with food industry representatives to talk to food processing, fast food and food service companies.
“There was definitely some interest,” said Mackellar.
The challenge for the market, however, is bridging the gap between farmers who would like to grow the crop, which could pay them a premium, and buyers who would like to use the product.
There is the potential to import high-oleic soybean oil from the United States, but a local supply is often appreciated.
“One of the challenges we face is the processing capacity in Ontario,” said Mackellar. There are two large soybean crushers in Ontario, run by Bunge and ADM. They need to be convinced that there would be enough supply to dedicate time in their plants for a specialty oil. There needs to be enough demand to pull enough acres worth of the crop through a processor.
It would take 50,000 to 60,000 acres for it to make sense, said Roe. The potential market is large. Roe calculated that the high-oleic soybean oil needed for a product like Coffeemate alone globally is 100,000 acres.
In the United States, the United Soybean Board has a goal of 16 million acres planted to high-oleic soybeans. The number of acres should increase quickly in the U.S. from the less than a million acres grown in 2018, now that trade limitations have been lowered.
In Ontario, there are no Plenish soybeans grown yet, said Ali Aziz, manager of communications with Corteva.
“There have been discussions about the development of a smaller scale crushing facility, said Mackellar. “It would fit with what’s occurring with high-oleic soybeans and allow us to get the product out into the market. There are still some conversations going on about that, but there’s nothing definitely planned.”
Roe said the demand for high-oleic soybean oil continues to grow and that means it will eventually be grown in Ontario. He expected that it could be a few years yet before it happens.
High linoleic soybeans another option
A small-scale crusher could also help in the ability to get high-linoleic soybeans to market. They were developed at the University of Guelph by soybean breeder Istvan Rajcan, using germplasm put through mutagenesis by the late soybean breeder Gary Ablett.
The high-linoleic soybeans are not genetically modified by transgenics, so there aren’t the market-access issues of high-oleic soybeans.
High-linoleic soybeans will be for industrial uses only, although there’s no health issue for people who consume them.
Rajcan said that soybeans usually contain 52-53 per cent linoleic oil. High-linoleic soybeans contain 69 per cent, about 50 per cent more than conventional.
That’s of interest to people who manufacture paints with flax seed oil as their feedstock for alkyd paints. Tests by paint manufacturers have been positive, said Rajcan. The limitation is more tests and time to develop the product before Ontario growers can start harvesting.
About 50,000 to 60,000 acres worth of demand is needed to get a processor interested, said Rajcan. He said the Ontario market for high-linoleic soybeans would be close to 100,000 acres.
About five tonnes of high-linoleic soybeans were produced in 2018 for further testing as crushed product, said Rajcan, and they have been developing breeder seed, which a seed company needs to multiply for commercial production. That would take two to three more years once a seed company is engaged he said.
“Both sides of the value chain have to be pretty solid,” said Roe.
“It’s not a commodity,” he said. “A lot of these processors handle commodities, but as soon as you get into things that are identity preserved or specialty crops grown under contracts and paid premiums and all that, from a processor point of view is a different business.”
The technology behind specialty oils from oilseeds isn’t new. There are value chains around them for high-oleic canola and high erucic-acid rapeseed in Western Canada and Europe. The opportunities will come to Ontario. It’s a matter of patience, even though many in the sector are ready for them to arrive now.