SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

November 15, 2014

Asians demand Non-GMO SOYbeans

JUSTIN WAN THE BLADE Larry Holloway stands among grain elevators at the Delong Co., a soybean collection                                        point for Asian markets.

Asian markets hunger for unaltered Ohio soybeans

By Jon Chavez THE BLADE

   KIRBY, Ohio — It’s not Tokyo, but a grain elevator in this tiny town in Wyandot County has become a de facto doorway of opportunity to the Far East for northwestern Ohio farmers who choose to grow soybeans that are not genetically altered. The DeLong Co. Inc. elevator, which can hold about 1 million bushels of grain, stores and processes non-genetically modified organism soybeans. Those beans are highly sought by Asian buyers, particularly the Japanese.  

“In the past, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan beans have been incredibly popular with the Japanese market. We have better protein content,” said Larry Holloway, general manager of the DeLong operations in Kirby, about 6 miles west of Upper Sandusky.   And the Asian markets, which include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, long have been insistent that the food-grade soybeans used to make tofu, miso and soy sauce not be genetically modified.  

  • “The beans in China and Japan are all non-GMO. They don’t allow GMO beans,” Holloway said. “They fear that GMO will cause adverse health problems, so getting them to use GMO beans — it’s just not going to happen.”

That’s been a good thing for 25 years for DeLong and others who make a nice profit serving what is essentially a niche market.   About 98 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified. But that 2 percent of non-GMO soybeans is a market worth pursuing.  

“It’s actually bigger than you think. It’s a pretty big market,” Holloway said. “Japan alone for food uses about a million metric tons of soybeans, and they grow about a third of what they need.” For the two-thirds that it needs, Japan imports 70 percent from the United States and 30 percent from Canada. Besides wanting non-GMO soybeans, Asian buyers prefer the taste and protein content of soybeans that come from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan — known as IOM beans — and they are willing to pay a premium price to get them.  

“It kind of ranges with the market,” said Gary Shick, a non-GMO soybean farmer who lives just outside Kenton in neighboring Hardin County. “But Kirby’s premium this year is $2 to $3 a bushel depending on (soybean) variety.”  

In other words, DeLong will pay farmers $2 to $3 more per bushel for non-GMO soybeans than they would get if they grew GMO soybeans. Shick said he sells a third of the 650 acres of non-GMO beans he grows to a Japanese firm, Kapi-Ohio, in Marysville. He has been growing the specialty crop for the export market for nearly 25 years. He is one of about 120 Ohio farmers that DeLong contracts to grow non-GMO beans for its Asian customers.  

DeLong, of Clinton, Wis., works with farmers as far south as Marysville in Union County, north to Lake Erie, west to Delphos in Allen and Van Wert counties, and east to Bucyrus in Crawford County.   DeLong is one of five grain elevators in Ohio that serve as non-GMO soybean collection points for the Asian market.  

In the Toledo area, the Andersons Inc. of Maumee contracts with northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan farmers to grow non-GMO soybeans that the company sells directly to Japan and other Asian countries.  

The soybeans are collected in special bins, sent by rail to the Andersons dock on the Maumee River, loaded on a ship and sent directly abroad. A trip to the Far East takes about 30 days. jchavez@theblade.com

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