High oleic soybean acreage growth ‘on the cusp’

The number of acres planted to high oleic soybeans is growing. And although that growth has been slow to this point, an industry spokesman says that might change. There were 600,000 acres of high oleic soybeans grown in the U.S. in 2021, according to John Jansen, vice president of partnerships at the United Soybean Board.

“Next year, contracting looks to be about 850,000 [acres of high oleic soybeans], so you’ve got some decent growth,” said Jansen. “I think we could have had more, but we just don’t have enough planting seed currently.”

Jansen has a theory about why growth in high oleic acreage has been slow. “I think it’s lack of forward coverage,” he said. “The end users are so used to soybean oil in abundance that they’re happy and always able to contract on a moment’s notice; high oleic doesn’t fit that mold. You need multiple-year commitments in order to get processors to extend their contracts and risk positions to get things going.”

What progress is there on getting high oleic soybean acreage over what seems to be a hard-to-navigate hump? Jansen said the industry is “on the cusp.”

“We’ve got some large end-users both in food and industrial applications that are clamoring for the product,” said Jansen, “so I believe we’ll cross the million-acre hump the year after next, and from there it should end up being around 10 percent of the crop annually.”

Something in high oleic soybean oil’s favor is its versatility. From extended-fry food-grade oil, which Jansen calls “perfect for today’s environment,” to industrial uses well suited to the oil’s molecular make-up.

“On the food side, it’s highly stable, very nutritious, heart health and it’s really doing well,” he said. “On the industrial side, you’re also seeing novel chemistries being built out of the oleic fatty acids that are in products like asphalt rejuvenation, surfactants, and motor oils.”

There’s money to be made from planting high oleic soybeans. Jansen cites high oleic marketing premiums the past year as high as $1.00 to $1.35 more than the market price, which he says is up 70 percent from the previous year.

“End users are demanding the product and processors are reacting in the form of better premiums,” he said. “Your average farmer can expect to make another $35,000 to $50,000 with very little change in behavior on the farm.”