Michigan Soy Sauce Market Offers a Flexible, Stable Premium Program
By DF Seeds | May 15, 2023
Next time you’re cooking up a stir fry or sitting down at your favorite Asian restaurant and you go to add some Kikkoman soy sauce to your dish, take a look at the ingredients list. Those soybeans used to brew its rich umami flavor? They may have been grown right here in Michigan.
Thanks to the state’s unique microclimate created by the surrounding Great Lakes, Michigan’s farmers have an opportunity to earn a premium by growing identity-preserved (IP) soybeans for the food-grade market.
For more than 15 years, DF Seeds has partnered with soybean processor and exporter Zeeland Farm Services, Inc. (ZFS) to provide varieties that not only make for great soy sauce, but also produce a high-yielding crop, so farmers can secure greater profits.
Michigan Soybeans Grow Higher Protein
A main reason Kikkoman purchases soy products from ZFS is because Michigan’s soils and atmosphere help produce high protein soybeans. ZFS processes the soybeans, which are then used in the soy sauce brewing process.
“As you go west from Michigan to Iowa, there’s definitely a difference between the protein levels grown in one area vs. another,” says Darwin Rader, International Marketing Manager and Sales Executive for ZFS.
But it also requires having the right non-GMO soybean varieties, which is where DF Seeds comes in. Every seed sold by DF Seeds is tested and proven in Michigan, so ZFS knows if a grower uses one of the approved DF Seeds’ non-GMO varieties for Kikkoman it will produce the needed protein levels and perform well for the farmer.
“DF Seeds puts substantial effort into looking at the performance of non-GMO varieties in Michigan and grows the seeds we need to ensure we have the supply for our buyers,” says Ben Glass, ZFS Seed Sales Manager. “It’s important to have those soybeans optimized for the Michigan climate so they’re maximizing the yield potential and the quality of the crop.”
Darwin adds that DF Seeds has proven it can develop a seed that is exactly what their buyer wants. The DF 155 variety in particular has been a consistent standout when it comes to growing for the soy sauce market.
“Varieties come and go, but there are certain varieties, such as DF 155, that have just been a solid performer for many, many years,” he says. “DF Seeds is great to work with and they have just been innovative in coming up with new varieties.”
Flexible Premium Program
Growing soybeans for the soy sauce market is also unique because it offers a little more flexibility for farmers than other IP programs.
The two main requirements that farmers must meet in growing beans for the soy sauce market are a certain protein level and meeting the non-GMO purity standards in the ZFS acreage contract.
Ben adds that growers can sell their soybeans right at harvest, so if storage isn’t an option they don’t have to worry about that. They can dry the beans if they’d like, but ZFS can also take them with different moisture content.
“It can be helpful if we run into a wet fall. We can take wetter beans than maybe some other programs that have to wait for them to get to just the right moisture,” he says.
Strong Relationships Bring a Stable Market
The opportunity to grow soybeans for soy sauce is not novel. ZFS has been providing soy products to Kikkoman for more than two decades.
“One thing about working with companies like Kikkoman is they love to have long-term relationships,” Darwin says. “We also treasure long-term relationships with them and with our suppliers, such as DF Seeds. I think that all adds to the feeling of confidence that we’re in this for the long haul, and that we are going to be a supplier for the long haul as well.”
Those long-term relationships also benefit the farmers.
“We have a stable buyer and that provides a consistent market,” Ben says. “It provides a flexible, stable and value-added opportunity for the right soybean farmer, if it’s a fit for their operation.”
To learn more about growing for a seed premium program and discuss whether it’s a fit for your farm, contact ZFS.