In recent months, three major seed suppliers have announced low-linolenic lines designed to reduce trans fat in foods. The food industry is pushing hard to get trans fat out of products in advance of a 2006 labeling requirement mandating trans fat contents be listed.
Iowa State University researcher Walter Fehr began looking at ways to reduce linolenic levels in the late 1960s. His first achievement was reducing levels from 7% (currently in normal soybeans) to 3%, which both Monsanto and Pioneer are contracting with producers to raise. His latest research has found a variety with only 1% linolenic acid.
Fehr's goal was to see if the 1% variety could be "at least as good as hydrogenated oil," where he found it was actually far superior to higher linolenic varieties. The oil eliminated trans fatty acids and provides a reduced saturated fat cooking alternative for restaurants.
A group of southeastern Iowa farmers formed a group called Asoyia, meaning a soybean from Iowa, to plant over 30,000 acres this last growing season of Fehr's soybean. Thanks to weather, Fehr reports 1 million bushels of the 1% linolenic oil soybeans will now be processed and shipped at the end of October. A representative from Asoyia says that next year as many as 55,000 acres in Iowa will be planted with the 1% low-lin line.
Monsanto and Pioneer say that their research has more success in providing superior yield and agronomic performance with the 3% variety compared to the 1%. John Soper, director of soybean research at Pioneer, adds they do have 1% in their portfolio, but it isn't cost effective to provide growers with it yet. For the 2005 growing season Pioneer plans to have 50,000 acres of its 93M20 variety available to Iowa and central Illinois growers. In research over the last three years, 93M20 has yielded the same as the top three sellers in Iowa.
Monsanto representative Dr. David Stark adds Asgrow's Vistive variety is at the 2.5% linolenic acid level because Monsanto also had better luck breeding with that germplasm. Monsanto is teaming with growers to have 100,000 acres of soybeans planted in 2005, and with Omaha-based Ag Processing Inc and Cargill for marketing the oil.
United Soybean Board (USB) Chief Executive Officer John Becherer says the industry needs the linolenic level to be at or under 3%. This industry movement toward providing healthier products to the marketplace is a result of USB's Better Bean Initiative. QUALISOY is the certification mark that characterizes soybean varieties and has united the soybean industry to create a venue to share ideas and information to bring enhanced compositional traits to the marketplace.