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Adding value to Canadian soybeans

Innovation and its role in identifying new uses for soybeans.


November 13, 2007
By Michelle McMullen*

26aCanada is recognized internationally for being a producer and supplier of safe,
high quality food grade soybeans with specialty characteristics. Research and
innovation are key tools that have led to the development of new varieties which
meet the needs of international end users, allowing Canada to build new relationships
while strengthening existing relationships.

Science and innovation also play a critical role in 'adding value' to soybeans,
and the soybean value chain, through the development of newspecialty trait varieties
and processing techniques for food and industrial applications.

New food uses
Soybeans and soy derivatives are known to provide many health benefits. Research
and innovation is focussed on greater incorporation of soy into prepared foods.

With the introduction of legislation requiring the labelling of trans fats
in December 2006 and heightened consumer awareness of health and wellness, demand
for 'healthy' products with reduced trans fats has increased. Emerging food
uses, such as low-linolenic soybean oil (which eliminates the need for partial
hydrogenation in a wide variety of food oil applications) is an opportunity
that growers in Ontario can take advantage of beginning in 2007.

Food companies across North America, including several large fast food franchise
chains, are moving away from oils requiring hydrogenation to meet new trends
and support the health concerns of their consumers: Ontario production of low-lin
soybeans can meet this growing demand.

Industrial uses
Advancements in research are leading to viable new uses for soybeans outside
of traditional food applications that will add value to the entire soybean value
chain and notably Ontario soybean growers. Innovations in research will lead
to the development of soybean characteristics appropriate for industrial applications.
Three industrial opportunities in particular show tremendous potential in adding
value to soybeans in Ontario.

Biodiesel
Soybeans are a renewable solution to helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions
through biodiesel – fuel made from animal byproducts and vegetable oils.
This 'green' technology boasts many benefits: it is environmentally friendly
and soybean oil is more price stable over time in comparison to crude oil. Increasing
demand for soybean oil through biodiesel applications and therefore increasing
demand for soybeans can only lead to favourable market conditions.

Polyols
Soybean oil can also be used to produce polyols, a key ingredient in the production
of industrial foams and plastics. Research has shown that vegetable based polyols
can be partially substituted for traditional, petroleum based polyols. A key
potential market for these products is the strong Ontario automotive sector.

Seed coat derived anti-microbial peptides
Researchers
are working to develop technologies to locate specific proteins and enzymes
in the soybean seed coat. Canada is a world leader in this field of research.
An immediate potential market for this technology is the livestock industry
where anti microbial peptides in the seed coat could supplement and potentially
replace traditional antibiotics. Initial research shows that anti-microbial
peptides can partially reduce reliance on antibiotics to treat disease, prevent
infection and support growth. In addition to anti-microbial peptides, the seed
coat has the potential to be a delivery platform for a variety of other proteins
and biochemicals.

With so much focus on soybean oil, it is important to give consideration to
the other significant product created by crushing soybeans: the meal. The challenge
now is finding new ways to increase the demand for soybean meal outside of traditional
uses. The Ontario Soybean Growers are committed to supporting research initiatives
and opportunities that will add value to Ontario soybeans and increase returns
to producers' pockets.

Michelle McMullen is industry opportunities
co-ordinator with the Ontario Soybean Growers in Guelph. Visit: www.soybean.on.ca