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Jon Knutson, Forum News Service, Published November 28 2013

Soybeans without trans fat being developed

GRAND FORKS – A veteran soybean breeder says he and his peers are making progress on new high-oleic soybeans that will be popular for both food and nonfood uses.

“We’re going to put the high-oleic trait up and down the United States. It will be a better soybean,” says Grover Shannon, who works at the University of Missouri.

Typically, developing a new soybean variety takes about seven years. Shannon says he focused on his current research in 2009, putting 2016 as the first year at which high-oleic soybeans might be widely available to farmers.

Shannon and others have worked for years to develop soybean varieties without trans fat. But their efforts are garnering more public attention after the Food and Drug Administration announced Nov. 7 that it would ban artificial trans fat from processed foods.

High-oleic soybean oil wouldn’t contain trans fat. That would help it compete against other oils, such as sunflower oil and canola oil, without trans fat.

Shannon is working with naturally occurring genes to develop his high-oleic varieties.

“We know where the genes are, so we can move faster now,” he says.

His attention now is on improving yields in the high-oleic soybeans.

Jim Orf, a University of Minnesota professor who works with soybean genetics and breeding, says he’s working to put the high-oleic trait into early maturity beans suitable for the upper Midwest, and they could be ready for planting in 2017.

The new varieties being developed by Orf are intended primarily for Minnesota farmers but will work just as well in North Dakota and South Dakota, he says.

“We have hope that there will be some varieties for Minnesota farmers to try and grow. Of course, they’d be adapted to North Dakota and South Dakota, too, since the latitudes are the same,” Orf says. “If they grow on one side of the Red River, they’ll grow on the other.”

Private sector efforts

Private companies also are working on soybean varieties whose oil is free of trans fat.

Monsanto is ratcheting up production of its Vistive Gold soybeans, says Sarah Vacek, the company’s soy quality traits manager.

Vistive Gold is low in polyunsaturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats. That results in extra stability that eliminates the need for hydrogenation, also eliminating trans fats, according to the company.

In 2014, Vistive Gold will be grown on entire fields in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. The breeding program will expand geographically over time, but there’s no firm timetable of when Vistive Gold will be available to farmers in the Upper Midwest, Vacek says.

She anticipates that farmers who grow Vistive Gold will be paid a premium for their crop but will not need to pay an additional fee for the seed.

The recent FDA announcement on trans fat “solidifies the opportunities” for Vistive Gold, she says.

Nonfood uses

High-oleic soybean oil “is broader than just the food market. It’s expanding the market for soybean oil overall,” Vacek says.

The high-oleic oil is better than conventional soybean oil for nonfood uses, such as industrial lubricant products, she says.

Soybean growers across the country, not just in areas where high-oleic varieties will be available in the next few years, should keep an eye on how the varieties are brought to the marketplace, she says.

“I hope they (growers) adopt them quickly, so the entire soybean industry can take advantage of the opportunity,” Vacek says.

High-oleic soybean oil will be “not only good for food. It’s better for biodiesel, lubricants, cosmetics. It’s just more functional oil,” Shannon says.