soybean field

USSEC Checks in With Food Soybean Researchers in Arkansas

As U.S. food soybean researchers work to develop new soybean varieties to meet present and future global needs, USSEC continues to provide updates about their ongoing projects as part of its ongoing U.S. soy food bean university research series.   Current research allows U.S. soybean growers to remain at the forefront of meeting world market demands, and assures their ability to supply increasingly specialized beans.  USSEC has been following the work of several food soybean researchers around the country, including Pengyin Chen, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, University of Arkansas.  Dr. Chen recently shared details about his current work.

The program at the University of Arkansas, he says, consists of several parts.  “One major component of our program is conventional, non-GMO soybean varieties for farmers to grow.  There is an increasing need for non-GMO soybeans for food or feed purposes, and processing purposes.  That includes food for human consumption or livestock, for non-GMO beef or poultry.  Of course, feed agriculture uses a fraction of the non-GMO soybeans as a feed ration.  I develop those kinds of varieties for farmers to grow.  In doing so, the farmers will get a premium, meaning an additional price that supplier or importers are going to pay for this kind of crop.  The market value averages about $1.06 more per bushel [in Arkansas], so that is a value added to farmers for the crops.  That is one part of the breeding program,” Dr. Chen explains.
Finally, the soybean breeding project is developing specialty soybeans for domestic and international niche markets.  Dr. Chen states, “That market can be divided into two categories:  One is the large soybeans, targeted for edamame, tofu, soymilk and miso, soynuts and roasted or freeze-dried soynut products that compete with peanuts.  The other category is smaller soybeans, marketed for natto and bean sprouts.  That is a very large market for the Japanese and the Koreans.  Those are two major types of soybean niche markets.”
Commercial soybean breeding projects, he says, take from six to eight years.
Expanded Specialty Soybean Breeding Program to Appeal to Niche Markets
In addition to developing the major product types of soybeans—large and small—Dr. Chen says the specialty soybean breeding program has been expanding into other areas, including higher protein, increased oil content, carbohydrate content, and calcium. He provides a snapshot of each of these areas.

  • Elevating the Protein:  “We can elevate the protein by three to five percent above the commodity soybean standard so that the soybeans can be used for food or feed.  That gives more nutrition per serving,” Dr. Chen says.
  • Increasing the Oil Content:  “Another thing we are working on is to increase the oil content by three to four percent.  The ideal is to have more oil production for volume of soybean seed in relation to this oil market,” Dr. Chen continues.  “We are changing the fatty acids—there are five of them.  We are manipulating the proportions of those five fatty acids to be more beneficial to human health.  Particularly, we are increasing the oleic acid and decreasing the acids and also decreasing the saturated fat.  Those three things are key to healthy oils.”
  • Changing the Carbohydrate Profile:  “Also worth mentioning is that we are working on changing the carbohydrate profile, too.  There are five sugars, and we are targeting two of them. One is a two-carbon sugar; we are increasing the sucrose content in soybeans to give more energy per serving.  For humans, it is quick energy.
    • The other carbohydrate is called stachyose, which is a four-carbon sugar.  It is not very good for humans, because we cannot digest it.  So we are working on decreasing that to avoid indigestion problems in humans, and working on increasing the sucrose to give more energy.”
  • Changing the Sensory Properties:  Other research work addresses changes in texture.  “We are trying to change the calcium content and texture for making tofu, or softer edamame for eating,” he says.

Looking Toward Future Market Potential

  • Dr. Chen sums up how current research work addresses future market needs.  “The natto and bean sprout export market already exists,” he says.  “Tofu and edamame are both domestic and export markets, but I think the domestic market is increasing by two digits per year, so the potential is there.  The other market potential is for soybean oil, healthy oil/high oleic oil.  That is a high commercial market, a mainstream market that will probably be a very large one.”
  • Dr. Chen says that current work includes projects with three companies, two involving soybeans for natto and bean sprouts for export, and one for a private company to develop and produce edamame in Arkansas.