High Oleic Soybeans Represent Opportunity for Growers

August 30, 2023

High oleic soybeans have gained popularity since first making a splash on the market a little over a decade ago. Today they present a significant market opportunity for producers in select regions across the country, delivering premiums in the range of $1 to $2 per bushel for the 2023 growing season. And while the elevators closest to South Dakota currently set up to receive high oleic soybeans are found in neighboring Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, the United Soybean Board (USB) projects that new facilities will begin offering contracts as demand continues to grow.

Given that likely scenario, what should producers in South Dakota know about high oleic soybeans? And how can they prepare their operations for planting acres to these premium-earning varieties?

What are high oleic soybeans?

First, it’s helpful to understand how these high oleic soybeans compare to conventional varieties with which you’re already familiar.

High oleic soybeans are bred to produce oil consisting of a far higher percentage of oleic acid (70 percent, at minimum) than more common varieties, which tend to be in the 22–28 percent range. There are currently only two seed companies — Pioneer and Bayer — marketing high-oleic soybeans to growers, and you must contract these identity-preserved (IP) varieties with one of the participating high oleic soybean elevators and processing facilities in order to fetch a premium.

Why is oleic acid important?

Soybean oil rich in oleic acid exhibits great industrial versatility and is used in products like the soy-based asphalt sealant applied in Badlands National Park in 2022. It is also trending upward in its use in dairy rations to boost milkfat production. But it is particularly desirable in cooking applications. According to USB, trends within the commercial food industry and increased consumer preference have driven demand for high oleic soybeans, accounting for roughly 90 percent of its consumption.

Equally as important is the convenient opportunity high oleic soybeans represent for producers. Grown using identical methods and with the same trait and disease packages as conventional soybeans, high oleic soybeans also produce similar yields. In other words, you don’t need to account for a yield drag or increased crop protection costs when planning acres. The most significant changes a producer can expect are cleaning storage equipment, grain carts or wagons and trucks before and after harvesting high oleic soybeans as well as completely emptying the combine to meet purity standards.

This makes for a promising market opportunity without some of the same overhead costs, transition time and everyday practical concerns (weed management, loss of yield, etc.) you would encounter growing organic or conventional non-GMO soybeans.

When will high oleic soybeans be available in South Dakota?

South Dakota producers find themselves in a bit of a waiting game for high oleic soybeans at the moment. As demand continues to grow nationwide, USB projects that high oleic contracts will expand into other soybean-producing states. In the meantime, analysts say that a strong market for high oleic soybeans is still a win for all soybean producers.

The good news is that there is little to do regarding scaling operations once contracts are available for South Dakota producers. To stay up to date on this developing market opportunity, please visit the United Soybean Board website or talk with your district director for the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.