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Who’s representing your soybeans?

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This opening line of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice is still relevant today if we replace “single man” with “up-and-coming crop,” and “wife” with “industry association.”

As soybean acreage grows, so do the number of people involved in soybean industry organizations.

On June 14, 2014, Statistics Canada reported in The Daily that, “Nationally, soybean area could reach a record high for the sixth consecutive year, rising 23.5 per cent from 2013 to 5.6 million acres.” Soybeans are still “new” here — from 2005, and 2008, there were less than three million acres seeded in Canada each year. For comparison, keep in mind that Canadian farmers seeded 24.1 million acres of wheat in 2014.

Here in Saskatchewan, farmers grew 300,000 acres of soybeans in 2014. This is remarkable, considering that many of us had never even seen them growing a few years ago.

Provincial organizations

In Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) collect levies when farmers sell soybeans, even though the industry has come to agree that soybeans are not, in fact, pulse crops at all.

The association formerly known as the Manitoba Pulse Growers has a special page on its website to explain the difference. “By definition, soybeans are not a pulse because their seed is not dry (it contains high amounts of oil), and while they are healthy, they are not as nutritious as edible beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas.”

In February, 2015, to reflect the fact that it’s been collecting levies from soybean growers, the Manitoba Pulse Growers changed its name to the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers. In the press release, executive director Francois Labelle said “While soybeans are not technically a pulse, they have become a large part of our business through increased acres and sales.” They even updated their logo. The new logo, they say, is “representative of a bean seed sprouting, indicative of growth.”

The Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers do a lot of soybean agronomy research. The list of 2014 research on the group’s website includes a cyst nematode survey, a study of soybean residue management and a look at the effect of lower seeding rates on yields in western Manitoba.

In the last few years, the SPG has also made efforts to include soybean agronomy and bring information to farmers.

At the SPG regional meeting in Regina in 2015, Tom Warkentin, a plant breeder at the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, told farmers “We are doing a little bit of breeding work on soy. Not a lot, but we’ve started a bit.” They’re partnering with an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada breeding program, and testing genetic material with a shorter growing season. New varieties are being grown in test plots across Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Soy Canada

The SPG and the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers forward a portion of the levies they collect to Pulse Canada in Winnipeg for the promotion of the pulse industry. But now, levies collected from soybean sales are going to Soy Canada instead. (Just to make it a little more complicated, Pulse Canada’s Courtney Hirota explained by email that “Some soybean funds do go to Pulse Canada for specific projects”).

So, if you’re growing soybeans in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, you’re now sending five cents per tonne to Soy Canada. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, it’s new.

Soy Canada is a new organization, but some of the people at the table will have worked together before. Soy Canada’s executive director Jim Everson explained to me that the former farmer-driven Canadian Soybean Council and the Canadian Soybean Exporter Association “are folding members into Soy Canada.”

Farmers in Quebec and Ontario also pay five cents per tonne to belong to Soy Canada. And farmers aren’t the only paying members: soybean crushers pay two cents per tonne, to a maximum of $20,000. Soybean Exporters and seed companies pay tiered fees, up to $20,000 per year.

“It’s a value-chain organization,” Everson said, meaning that Soy Canada represents the entire Canadian soybean supply chain, from seed suppliers to farmers to exporters and processors. Picture the Pulse Canada business model, but for soybeans.

As Pulse Canada does for lentils, one of the things Soy Canada is doing is promoting Canadian soybeans to the world. “We just finished a trade promotion to Japan,” Everson said.

For now, Soy Canada has just one person in its Ottawa office — Jim Everson. In areas like transportation or sustainability, where other commodity associations have the same goals, Everson said, “we want to partner with those organizations that are leading those efforts.”

If you want to get involved with Soy Canada, your best bet is to become active with your provincial association. John Bennett is the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers representative to the Soy Canada board. In Manitoba, Ernie Sirski (brother to Grainews columnist Andy Sirski), represents the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean growers. Manitoba farmers are also represented on the board by member-at-large Edgar Scheurer.

“The key thing for us is that it’s a new structure,” Everson said. By pulling together all of the components of the industry, he said, “the whole is more significant than the sum of the parts.”

While western Canadian farmers make up only a small part of Canada’s national soybean acreage, Jim Everson hopes to represent us well. With the large increase in western Canadian soybean acres, Everson said, “Where is that product going to go? What export markets are there? What sensitivities are there in terms of market access?”

For western Canadian farmers, Everson said, Soy Canada is “making sure that the product they grow finds markets and that those products are predictable. We hope that the western producer sees a lot of value in it.”

A few other groups

Besides these, there are still a few more Canadian associations out there dealing with soy-related issues.

Soybean 20/20 is a “project” more than an organization. It was founded by the University of Guelph, the Grain Farmers of Ontario, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

For an example of the type of work that Soy 20/20 does, see page 21 of this issue. Soy 20/20 was a major driving force behind Health Canada’s recent acceptance of the claim that consuming soybean foods can lower cholesterol. Acceptance like this is a major marketing coup for companies involved in selling soy-based foods.

Soy 20/20 is working with Soy Canada, in fact, it’s actually a dues-paying member.

The Canadian Soy Foods Marketing Council bills itself as “an initiative of Soy 20/20.” This Council runs a website (soyforlife.ca), which points out all the health benefits of soy food products. The soyforlife.ca website says it’s a “group of Canadian farmers and suppliers, soy food processors and manufacturers.” There are several other members of the Canadian Soy Food Marketing Council listed — these include Syngenta Seeds Canada, Pioneer Hi-Bred Ltd., Parrish and Heimbecker and Bunge North America.

The brochure on the soyforlife.ca website shows the normal photos of healthy soy products (tofu, edamame beans, cooking oil), but there was also a picture of something that I’m pretty sure is an ice cream sandwich. I’m in.

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