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Strong profit margin for organic soybean growers

Staff Writer |
Although soybeans are one of the most widely grown crops in the U.S., few soybean farmers are using organic practices.

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A new University of Illinois report details organic products and practices to combat pathogens and insect pests. New growers may be motivated by a strong profit margin for organically produced soybeans.

Soybeans were planted on nearly 84 million acres in the U.S. in 2016, but only a tiny fraction - less than 1 percent - were grown organically.

his number has been increasing in recent years, and a group of University of Illinois researchers wants to give organic growers the tools they need to combat pathogens and insect pests.

"We wanted to give organic growers some opportunities. We summarized some practices to fight diseases and pests organically. It's not an easy task, but it can be done," says U of I and USDA ARS crop pathologist Glen Hartman.

Hartman, along with colleagues in the Department of Crop Sciences, produced a comprehensive report summarizing the disease and pest problems faced by soybean growers in the United States.

or the first time, the report compiles specific organic management practices and products tailored for each scenario. By detailing the tools needed to successfully grow organic soybeans, the researchers hope more growers will give it a try.

"There is a movement for organic agriculture, but so far, soybeans haven't been a major player," Hartman notes.

The researchers want to encourage small-scale vegetable farmers that are already using organic practices to add soybeans to the mix.

he expansion of the organic meat and dairy markets, combined with strong consumer interest in organic soy-based foods like tofu and edamame, are increasing the demand for organically grown soybeans.

ver half of organic soybeans are imported, but several companies and entrepreneurs are working to increase the domestic supply.

Those who are selling organic soybeans today are getting almost twice as much per bushel compared to conventional soybeans. "Organic meat is probably double or triple the price compared with conventionally raised meat. And that's partly from the cost of organic feed. Whoever's producing this is going to make some money," Hartman says.

Bags of frozen edamame sell for about $3 at the grocery store, and there might be 40-50 pods per bag. That's equivalent to one or two plants. You can grow maybe 100,000 plants in an acre. You can do the math, and that's a rough calculation, but there could be a lot of profit involved."

Graduate student Theresa Herman also sees the potential for increased edamame production in the United States. "I have talked to school food service companies about incorporating edamame in school lunch programs. It's a good source of protein, and kids eat the beans voraciously. They're crazy about edamame," she notes.

Soybeans grown for edamame appear to be more prone to insect and disease problems than grain soybean, and non-GMO grain varieties available to organic growers may not have the disease and pest resistance that is present in many elite conventional cultivars.

owever, there are organic solutions for both. In the report, the researchers lay out strategies in a number of categories, including biological control, cultural practices, breeding priorities, and organic pesticide products.


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