Creating opportunities for Canadian food-grade soybeans

Sevita International’s Sandy Hart

In the food-grade soybean business, seed companies must maintain a sharp focus on end-user requirements and what growers need to do to meet those market demands.

For Sevita International general manager Sandy Hart, the company’s success rests on its ability to breed soybean genetics that create value for end-users through food qualities that include protein, seed size, taste profiles and oil characteristics. A winning formula also needs to deliver in growers’ fields across Canada, offering high yield potential, disease resistance and the ability to perform in adverse weather conditions.

Sevita Genetics, the company’s breeding business based at Inkerman, Ont., focuses on both GM and non-GM varieties. The program covers the vast majority of growing maturities across Canada with field testing happening primarily in Manitoba and Ontario.

In this video interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Hart  notes that one of the keys to breeding successful varieties for different regions is to make sure that parents used in creating new variety crosses have a successful track record in that market. “Then it all comes back to local testing,” says Hart. “We may do the breeding at a central location, but we need to invest heavily to get real yield data in the market where we expect that product to be grown by Canadian farmers.” (Story continues after the video.)

Hart says end-users are looking for a wide range of characteristics from Sevita varieties, including non-GM, high protein, higher sucrose levels to increase taste and more. Hart is really excited about Alinova, a new variety that received registration last winter. It’s the first non-GM, high-oleic soybean in Canada. Traditional soybean plants produce beans that deliver 23 percent high-oleic oil composition. Alinova checks in at about 75 percent, putting it in the same category as olive oil and canola oil. Future breeding efforts could push high oleic levels to 85 percent, which would allow it to compete with high-oleic sunflower oil.

Hart says working with end-users on oil composition and other traits is rewarding but he notes that “the most universal thing a customer is looking for is consistent, reliable supply from a supplier that understands their needs. It really comes down to performance for our growers, which matters deeply for our buyers as well,” he adds.

When it comes to producing new varieties, the time required to go from first cross to commercial variety can range from five to 10 years. Hart notes that buyers get involved one to three years prior to the start of commercial seed production. When Sevita plants breeder seed with a grower in Canada for the first time, the company typically has a buyer testing the product for a minimum of two years.

Plant breeding is expensive, but it pays off down the road, says Hart.  However, working directly with end-users to develop varieties based on Sevita’s own genetics does have its advantages. “When we bring a product to market, there’s someone ready to buy it… and there’s demand to support that premium for the grower.”