At the end of a long day at the Ohio State Fair, John Motter bought a tray of French fries from one of the many vendors cooking with high oleic soy oil. "The fries were golden," says Motter, a soy checkoff farmer-leader from the northwest part of the Buckeye State. "Then he told me about how happy he was about the functionality of the oil, which was great to hear. The fries were delicious and had no discoloration."
High oleic oil's fry life, which is longer than standard cooking oil, is only one of the ways it provides an improved oil for food industry customers. It also has no trans fats, less saturated fats and a longer shelf life. These advantages give farmers an opportunity to reclaim the share of the food-industry market they lost when trans-fat labeling was mandated. They also give farmers the chance to boost their profit potential by improving the long-term demand for soy oil.
"High oleic varieties will open up markets for us," says Alan Kemper, former president of the American Soybean Association and soybean farmer from Indiana. "We've been losing our percentage of the edible oil market, but high oleic oil can help us regain our share."
Motter, who grows high oleic varieties on his farm, agrees.
"Growing high oleic means meeting customer needs," says Motter. "As soybean growers, we have to look beyond the elevator to understand and fulfill our customers' needs."
In 2011, 20% of the soybeans grown on Motter's farm were high oleic varieties. Those varieties yielded so well, he said he grew 85% high oleic in 2012. This year, Motter plans to grow only high oleic soybeans.
"High oleic was my second-highest-yielding bean out of about five different varieties," he says. "And the companies that are developing these varieties are using their best genetics. Farmers shouldn't be resistant to high oleic because of perceptions of yield – they're performing in my fields."
Kemper had a similar experience growing high oleic on his farm last year.
"Agronomically, the high oleic soybeans were the same as our other varieties," Kemper says. "They had good stands and grew well."
High oleic soybeans followed an extensive research timeline before coming to market and offer the superior trait-and-disease packages farmers expect.
Both Kemper and Motter believe high oleic means big things for U.S. soy.
"The sooner we can get growers to go into full production, the sooner we can be successful," said Motter. "We need growers to step up and use the products that meet customer needs."
The food industry remains the biggest user of U.S. soy oil, but new soybean varieties with the high oleic trait have the potential to revolutionize the industrial applications of soy.
Many of the same attributes that make high oleic soy oil attractive to the food industry, such as increased functionality and stability and its low saturated fat content also make it appealing to manufacturers of other products, such as lubricants, paints and plastics.
"The good thing about this oil is that it has great characteristics for use on the food industry side, but those same characteristics make it excellent for industrial applications," says Steve Howell, president of MARC-IV, consultants for industrial uses of agricultural products. "So it's really a win-win for the soy industry."
High oleic oil performs well in extreme temperatures. The oil remains a liquid in colder weather longer than traditional soy oil, ensuring products like lubricants, solvents and biodiesel remain usable in a wider range of locations and seasons.
"Right now, solvents, lubricants work fine in Missouri in the summer time, but they don't work as well during Minnesota winters," says Howell. "Materials might gel up. High oleic helps to mitigate that problem."
The temperature at which high oleic oil begins to gel is about 15 degrees lower than traditional soy oil.
High oleic also withstands high temperatures. Both high oleic and traditional soy oil have significantly higher flash points, the temperature at which a liquid catches fire, than traditional petroleum distillates which makes them safer for consumers to use. But high oleic's low levels of poly-unsaturated fat improve its high-heat performance and oxidative stability, increasing its potential for use in applications where traditional soy oil may fall short.
"The same properties that extend its fry life increase high oleic's stability where heat and oxygen are present," says Howell. "This means that it has a great potential for use in places where high temperatures are an issue, like in engines."
In both high and low temperatures, high oleic oil reduces friction between metal parts more than other oils, making it a great material to use in lubricants.
Add in its renewability and sustainability benefits and high oleic soy is an attractive alternative to petroleum-based chemicals. However, Howell says, price remains an important consideration.
"As the price of crude oil goes up, the cost of animal and vegetable products becomes much more appealing in some of those industrial markets," says Howell. "It always comes down to price, but soy has a big opportunity here."
Because of the high oleic's potential to increase the demand for U.S. soy, the soy industry is committed to expanding high oleic acres and marketing the varieties to end customers. Now, all farmers have to do is grow it.
"If soybean farmers want to continue to grow soybeans, we need to look for new and expanded markets for our product," says Dale Profit, soybean farmer from Van Wert, Ohio and secretary for QUALISOY. "We need to be at the forefront of providing exceptional products that meet the demands of our customers."