‘Genetically elite’ soybeans score Pacers deal
A uniquely Indiana business deal involving NBA basketball, a major ag producer and farmers is putting a new crop in the spotlight at one of the biggest Hoosier venues: Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The partnership between the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and Pacers Sports & Entertainment Inc. means fried food at all Gainbridge Fieldhouse events will be cooked in high oleic soybean oil, which ISA says has “exploded” in popularity in recent years. With one of the major developers and distributors calling Indiana home and Hoosier farmers producing more of the crop than any other state, local leaders believe the new soybean oil is reaping a harvest of benefits.
Corteva Agriscience, which moved its global headquarters to Indianapolis in early 2022, is one of two companies with a foothold in the marketplace. Hoosiers played a major role in the development of high oleic soybean varieties; the ag giant’s research and development team is located in Indiana and Ohio. Corteva says the beans, sold as Pioneer Plenish High oleic soybeans, were developed “with elite genetics.”
The ISA says the cooking oil’s long list of benefits is creating high demand in the food industry. For consumers hungry for healthier oils, high oleic hits the mark: it has 0g trans-fat per serving, 20% less saturated fat than conventional soybean oil and is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
ISA says it also scores big points for foodservice and food processing customers. The “fry life” for high oleic oil is two to three times longer compared to conventional soybean oil, meaning it can be used for more batches before it needs to be dumped. Corteva says this stability factor also extends the shelf life for packaged food products, helping eliminate artificial preservatives and create a cleaner ingredient list. And less polymerized oil buildup on equipment means it drives down cleaning costs.
The new agreement at Gainbridge is shining a light on perhaps the greatest benefactors: Hoosier farmers. The ISA says Indiana is the top producer of high oleic soybeans in the world. And because market demand continues to climb, farmers are paid a premium above the regular price for conventional beans.
“We have some very innovative farmers in our state who are willing to try new things, universities like Purdue that [conduct research] and industry partners,” says ISA Chair Mike Koehne. “That combination of industry partners, researchers and farmers who want to be on the forefront—that’s a big plus for us in Indiana.”
Koehne, who farms in Greensburg, has dedicated about half of his soybean crop to the high oleic variety. He says the bean has been around for more than a decade, but major buy-in came when Purdue began using the oil in its student dining services, followed by the agritourism destination Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana.
And the momentum is continuing with an Indiana treasure: Pacers basketball. With more than 300 events each year at Gainbridge, Koehne says the Pacers deal not only increases sales for the oil but puts Hoosier farmers and the ISA on a prominent stage.
“It’s good to get the farmers noticed,” says Koehne. “We all work together for the big picture to feed the world. Having that publicity with the Pacers is a good promotion to help push our products and the things we’re doing on the farm.”
With the current price of soybeans per bushel around $15, ISA Senior Director of Market Development Ed Ebert says the premium is more than $2 per bushel.
“When you see a premium go from 25 to 50 cents and have it go to something above $2 in a relatively short period of time, that’s the market telling you, ‘We want this,’” says Ebert. “It’s a wonderful product, we’re glad we’re leading the nation in the production of it, and we want to continue that leadership going forward.”
In addition to Indiana’s legacy in soybeans, Koehne says the state’s leadership in biotechnology and agriscience make it a natural fit for growing high oleic soybeans.
Koehne expects to see the high oleic soybean market grow significantly in the coming years.