After a nearly decade-long marathon, high-oleic soybeans are just a few paces away from full commercialization.
Amidst a wave of genetically engineered trait approvals announced by the EU Friday, both Pioneer’s Plenish high-oleic soybean trait and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold high-oleic soybean trait were approved for import, food, feed use and processing.
The EU also approved eight other GE corn, soybean, cotton and oilseed rape traits for food or feed use, and renewed seven currently approved GE traits in cotton, corn and oilseed rape products.
The full Plenish soybean product, which contains both the high-oleic trait and the Roundup Ready 1 trait, is still not approved in the EU. However, with both of those individual traits now approved, Pioneer anticipates approval for the stack by the end of 2015, Pioneer media relations manager Jane Slusark told DTN.
“We have had Chinese approval since 2011, so we are the closest to market of all the high-oleic soy products going through the regulatory process today,” Slusark noted.
Should the EU approve the stacked-trait Plenish product by the end of 2015, Pioneer would “significantly increase our acreage in the following 2016 growing season,” Slusark said. Full commercialization in 2016 “would be our hope, but depending on when approval comes in, there’s a question of whether we would be able to scale up that quickly,” she added.
Monsanto’s Vistive Gold beans are still awaiting regulatory approvals in China, but the company is hopeful that they too will be ready for a full commercial launch in 2016.
“[The European Food Safety’s] scientific review of the Vistive Gold soybean stack is ongoing and we are on track for our planned launch in 2016,” Monsanto’s oilseeds communication manager Lindsey Dario told DTN. “In regards to China, we believe that they have all the information necessary to conclude safety and issue the remaining import approvals.”
The two high-oleic soybean products are genetically engineered to produce oil that has no trans-fats, lower linolenic levels and produce higher levels of oleic acid than commodity soybeans. This oil profile eliminates the need for hydrogenation, the process that produces trans-fats. The hope is that high-oleic beans like Plenish and Vistive Gold will help the soybean industry regain 4 billion pounds of soy oil demand lost after the FDA issued a trans-fat labeling law in 2006.
A limited number of farmers have been growing Plenish and Monsanto soybeans in the U.S. since 2011 and 2012, but under strict segregation and stewardship requirements. This year, up to 300,000 acres of Plenish will be planted in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania and carefully channeled to participating processors like ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Perdue Agribusiness. Monsanto is targeting acres in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, and all the beans will be directed to Zeeland Farm Services, a Michigan-based soybean crusher and processor.
John Motter has been growing Plenish soybeans in northwest Ohio since 2011 and Vistive Gold beans since 2012. This year he plans to grow 100% high-oleic beans by devoting two-thirds of his bean acreage to Plenish beans and the final third to Vistive Gold.
Motter said the stewardship requirements to grow these beans, which include cleaning out combines and planters and segregating the beans during planting and harvest, add a full week of work to his operation.
Once Plenish has full regulatory approval, stewardship steps related to keeping the product from contaminating commodity soybeans will most likely fall away, Slusark said. Growers will still need to keep the beans separate in order to deliver them to processors who want to produce their high-oleic oil, however.
“I’ve had a lot of growers tell me that it’s these stewardship requirements that keep them from growing them,” Motter said. “I’ve had elevators tell me they don’t want to handle a Plenish bean until the stewardship issues are off the table.”
Full commercialization “would mean a lot more acres in future years,” he speculated. “And the market wants those acres, so I think farmers will answer that call.”
For now, Motter receives a premium for growing high-oleic beans, which makes up for the cost and effort of abiding by stewardship requirements.
Slusark said it was too early to comment on whether growers would continue to receive a premium for growing Plenish soybeans after full regulatory approval removes some of the stewardship steps.
You can find the EU press release on its GE trait approvals here.