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Opinion: OSC testing the waters of China’s sea of soybean export potential
Buckeye Farm News
World food-grade soybean users have long recognized the quality of Ohio non-GMO soybeans, with major customers such as tofu and soymilk makers in Japan or Taiwan. But with its booming economy, huge population and ravenous desire for soy products, China could be a tremendous new market for Ohio food-grade soybeans.
Currently, China’s food-grade market is almost exclusively supplied by domestic sources. With increasing income levels in the booming Chinese economy, the demand for soy products will likely exceed the domestic production potential. The Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) and the soybean checkoff are working to establish Ohio food-grade soybeans as a preferred product.
“The demand for the food-grade market will continue to increase to the point where they will no longer be able to meet the demand with their domestic supply, and they will need to begin to import,” said Kirk Merritt, OSC director of international marketing. “The other angle is that we think our soybeans are of a higher quality than what they are currently using. So even before they turn the corner to importing out of necessity, we think there could be an opportunity to sell the higher quality soybeans that we grow.”
Recently, OSC sent a trial container shipment of Ohio food-grade, non-GMO soybeans to a high potential end-user in China. This tofu and soymilk processing company ran the soybeans through their process and then spoke to OSC representatives about how they found the product. Their response was very positive.
“Our protein levels were really high and they were happy with that. They can make more tofu per bean with our beans,” said Keith Kemp, OSC chairman. “They liked the taste better and the consistent size. It makes them easier to process because they can use a consistent soaking time. When the beans are different sizes, they need different soaking times for processing. Their major interest was that we had a dependable supply of non-GMO soybeans.”
The group of Ohio representatives also helped to address some common misconceptions in China.
“They thought we used radiation to dry our soybeans, and that if a soybean has a black hilum, it is genetically modified,” Kemp said. “And there is a myth over there that we don’t grow non-GMO beans in the U.S. They also asked a lot about how we handle and store our beans.”
Moving forward, OSC will look to make additional trial shipments to other potential customers and gather feedback. If this is positive, some major potential buyers will be brought to Ohio to visit farms and processors to see how things work on the production side of things.
“We have to constantly be pushing the envelope to do bigger and better things. If we don’t meet that challenge, somebody else will,” said Dale Profit, OSC board member and member of the international marketing committee. “We think Ohio has a distinct advantage, and we’re going to try to pursue that. The potential over there is bigger than anywhere. It is just a matter of capturing it. When you’re out in front, you can make a mistake, but if you just sit back and do nothing, that’s the bigger mistake.”