I am preparing to plant soybeans. As always, getting ready to plant these crops sometimes can be so hectic compared to driving the seed drill through the field. We have had a dry spring here near Dresden Ontario and my planting progress and workload is far ahead of schedule. Last year when the soybeans were planted about a month late I got my second highest yield ever. With planting looking to be ahead of schedule, it will be interesting to see if I can top last year.
Of course soybean prices are victim of the general bearishness in the grain complex. The July soybeans actually fell back from their 50-day moving average for the second time in the last two weeks today. In fact, listen to almost any agricultural program on the radio and you will learn about the overabundance of soybeans in this world. To me, it is getting a bit old. It’s almost noise, the bearishness in this agricultural market. So give me some fresh news, I like to have some reason for hope.
My soybeans are all grown for human consumption. They end up usually in some part of Southeast Asia. About 20 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Singapore, at about the same time as my soybeans arrived from the previous harvest. There, I met with Ontario soybean buyers who told me that every day somebody in Asia sits down to a bit of soybean milk (product). They told me the North Americans did not like them as much as Asians because soybeans tasted too “beany”. I kind of chuckled to myself at the time because as every soybean farmer knows biting into soybeans to test the moisture in the fall leaves that beany taste with you. It’s not the most pleasant, but we know when the beans crack, they are ready to harvest.
There are a myriad of reasons that North Americans and Europeans and Africans for that matter don’t care for whole soybeans in the diet. I don’t really have time to find out why, except for the fact they don’t. It must be that beanie taste. I am just thankful that there are many people in Southeast Asia that do. It means that myself as well as many other Ontario farmers who grow non-GMO soybeans get some value added back on her farm. It is been good to me for a long time.
Of course, what if we could change all that. In other words, package those soybeans without the beanie taste and get even more consumers to eat them. Yes, you can go to your local grocery store and buy roasted, soybeans but I’m talking about a big boost in demand. I’m talking soybeans in almost every snack food or meal at home.
I recently listened to CBC’s The Current, a popular program here in Canada. I listened to Mark Schatzker, author of the “Dorito Effect”, who talked about flavours and flavour ingredients and how food is suppose to be delicious. He talked about how chicken has become very bland. He harkened back to the day when “chicken tasted like chicken.” He talked about the combination of salt, sugar, fat and carbohydrates in snack food and how that sold because people liked the flavor. He emphasized how flavours transcended many foods, to the point where they have become best sellers. Junk food like sugary soft drinks are a great example of that. How many flavours are there in pop?
It was an incredibly interesting interview and of course it got me thinking. What if whole soybeans tasted like Doritos? Where at one time a Doritos was a salted chip but when they made it taste like a taco, now it gets its own Super Bowl commercial. Could you imagine the same thing being done with soybeans using some type of flavor technology that made them irresistible to the general populace? It has the potential to boost the demand for soybeans into something, which we cannot even imagine. It would be like East Asia has arrived in North America.
There is something to this for sure. Of course, it is not that easy. Big grocery is out there denying shelf space to new innovative products. However, the potential is there for something much greater.
Essentially, this at its root is value-added agriculture. Adding flavor to soybeans in a myriad of ways is one thing. Selling whole Canadian soybeans into Asia is another. Developing niche markets and adding processing within Ontario, Québec and the rest of Canada is another way to increase demand and revenues to farmers. There are certainly challenges there, but a little bit of flavour could go a long way.
Keep that in mind as your soybean planter rolls over the next few weeks. The lowly soybean doesn’t have to be so lowly. It can be much more than a commodity. The challenge is finding a way to think outside the box.