Alternative crop draws wide interest

The event was hosted by Steve Norberg, extension agent, who had been asked by local growers to try and find a new crop for this area. Markets for soybeans include whole beans and food grade oil, biofuel and feed markets.

“Oregon has a new biodiesel market,” Norberg said, explaining there are tax credits provided by Oregon for soybeans grown and processed in the state.

“They take no new machinery,” Norberg said. “Soybeans require nitrogen and require less water than corn or alfalfa.”

Soybean meal is now being imported by cattle feeders and dairies from the Midwest, and there would be a market for soybeans produced and processed closer to home. Another benefit is that soybeans can be a second crop, planted into a first crop before the first crop is harvested.

“One of the challenges is getting seed from the Midwest,” Norberg said, adding it can be costly.

According to additional information provided by Norberg, research conducted at the Malheur Experiment Station has identified varieties that will grow in the Treasure Valley. Also, the best locations for growing soybeans in Oregon include the Treasure Valley and the Columbia Basin areas. Soybean variety trials are ongoing at the Malheur Experiment Station, at the University of Idaho Experiment Station near Parma and at Corvallis. The best variety at the Malheur Station had an average yield of 67.3 bushels per acre. Research from the Columbia Basin has occasionally seen yields above 80 bushels per acre in a given year, but yields out on the farms will likely be at least 10 percent below research yields, researchers said. Also involved in the research at the Malheur Experiment Station are Dr. Clint Shock and Erik Feibert. Thomas Endicott, Willamette Biomass Processors, said the company processes conventional and organic oil seed and soybeans, turning them into vegetable oil for biodiesel and meal for livestock feed. Based in Rickreall, west of Salem, Endicott said, for the short-term the company works with growers from eastern Oregon to get their soybean crop to the plant, but that would be unsustainable for the longterm. He said the company would like to contract with at least five to 10 growers to plant 20 acres of soybeans to make sure that soybeans can be grown in the Treasure Valley within the needed yields.

“We would love to build a facility in Ontario,” Endicott said.

However, he said, the company would need 3,000 to 5,000 acres of soybeans produced in the Treasure Valley annually to make it feasible. The Ontario plant would accept genetically modified soybeans, he said. The company does not accept GMO beans at its Rickreall plant because it processes organic soybeans. From Mesa, Wash., Kent Mackey, Epic Grain, said he contracts soybeans for use in food, which requires that, for safety reasons, the product can be traced to where is was grown and processed. There are quality issues that the food-grade soybeans must meet, such as having at least 35 percent protein content. The company will help market grade beans, he said. The seed is $70 per acre, coming from the Midwest.

“It has to look good,” Mackey said of the harvested soybean crop. “It is going into food.”

While he does have contracts available to sign with growers, getting the crops to Washington for processing was among the logistics that would have to be worked out. Both companies base their prices paid to growers using different formulas based on prices posted on the Chicago Board of Trade.

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