Farm Talk

February 18, 2014

Innovation, exports fuel soybean demand

Candace Krebs

Parsons, Kansas — Brent Hayek is revved up about potential new uses for soybeans, and he is piling up the miles to share his enthusiasm.

The farmer and racecar driver from Ames, Okla., regaled the audience at the Oklahoma Soybean Expo with stories of his campaign to promote biodiesel and cultivate new uses for soy-based construction materials.

He made a brief stop in Stillwater, Okla., before continuing on to Louisville for the National Farm Machinery Show where he was exhibiting the biodiesel-powered Ford F-250 pickup used to set a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 2011.

“We ran 10 miles per hour faster on soy-based bio-diesel, so we’ve proved that horsepower thing,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Hajek disputed claims that biodiesel loses 20 percent of its potency after a year. He said he’d used biodiesel a year and a half old to set speed records.

Hajek’s farm is part of the westward expansion of the soybean belt, and he first grew beans on it just six or seven years ago. But he was clearly dazzled by what soy products can do. He said he was lobbying Ford to use more soy composites in the company’s vehicles.

Hajek builds his own racing vehicles in his farm shop located a dozen miles west of Enid, Okla., where he experiments with soy-based paint, panels, seat foam and other components.

“There are so many cool, new uses that we haven’t even gotten started yet,” he said.

Several years ago he heard about soy paneling being used on combines and that’s what originally piqued his interest. He wanted to see if he could apply those same farm-based materials to his racing hobby.

“That’s what happens when you spend too much time in the tractor thinking,” he joked.

 In the process, he ended up helping take soy products to the mainstream.

“Only a relatively few people know what a combine is, but just about everybody knows what a Ford Mustang is,” he said.

Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, who offered the opening welcome at the soybean expo, gave a nod to how effective the soybean industry has been at product promotion. “No commodity group does a better job of marketing themselves,” said Reese, who grew up at Nardin, which is located in the new soybean growing capital of Oklahoma, Kay County.

Soybean’s promotional reach extends to markets around the world. On the day of the expo, Oklahoma Soybean Board Executive Director Rick Reimer announced that nine barges loaded with 13,000 tons of soybeans had debarked from the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa. “January was one of the biggest months we’ve had at the port,” he said.

Reimer expects Oklahoma soybean plantings to increase to more than half a million acres in 2014, in line with national trends showing renewed grower interest. The state had two of its best years of production in 2009 and 2010, followed by two of the worst in 2011 and 2012, but recent drought conditions had improved considerably, he said.

In a wide-ranging marketing presentation, analyst Darrell Holaday had a good news-bad news take on rising world demand.

“China is such a good story for us,” he said as he paced animatedly around the conference room on the Oklahoma State University campus. “They are consuming 30 percent of all the beans in the world right now.”

But America’s dependence on China also has a downside. On the day of the expo, China had just made the widely anticipated move of cancelling 270 tons of old-crop U.S. beans and shifting that business to South America, where soybean production has surged in tandem with Chinese demand and where prices are lower.

That’s just one example of how recent record high commodity prices have created a much more competitive global marketplace going forward, added Holaday, who is from Wamego, Kan. “When you take corn to $8, the whole world changes,” he said. “We’ve seen major changes all over the world from our competitors. It’s going to be harder to rally these markets, because now they know how to do it.”

In light of that, he offered some free marketing advice.

“If you’re sitting on cash soybeans you need to move them, that’s my opinion,” he said. “We’re probably going to be importing soybeans this year, which seems absurd I know.”