Glenn Arfstrom, Willmar, MN, took a gamble when he grew 50 acres of food-grade soybeans in 2004 without a contract. However, as secretary/treasurer of the Midwest Shippers Association, Arfstrom was confident that one of his many contacts in the global food market might be interested in purchasing his crop.

Now that Arfstrom's beans are in the bin, he's even more confident. “We had a protein test of 38.5%, which is a good protein level for marketing tofu,” says Arfstrom. “Normal protein levels in northern areas are about 35% or less.”

Due to an unseasonable August frost, many farmers in northern Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada had trouble raising a viable soybean crop in 2004. However, Arfstrom's crop yielded well, and now he says those soybeans “are gaining value in storage.”

While pleased with the market potential for edible beans, Arfstrom says growing and raising them was somewhat of a challenge. “I was too used to growing Roundup Ready soybeans,” he explains, “and I didn't have quite the weed control I'd hoped for.”

Keeping his food-grade beans separate from biotech varieties was also no easy task. Growing soybeans for the tofu market “takes a little more patience,” says Arfstrom.

To identity-preserve the crop, Arfstrom says he needed to thoroughly clean the planter seed boxes, augers, bins and combines prior to use. “Non-GMO (genetically modified organism) soybeans cannot have more than 1% GMO contamination,” he points out.

Although the market for specialty crops demands more time and labor, Arfstrom says it's probably his best bet for future profits. “I'm hemmed in by residential development and would have a hard time expanding my operation,” he says. “This way I can specialize and get a premium that allows me to compete with larger farmers.”

How much of a premium will he demand for his edible beans? Arfstrom admits that finding a premium price is important, but says that he's more concerned about building a lasting relationship with an agricultural exporter with whom he can do business year after year.

Arfstrom adds that farmers interested in finding buyers for specialty crops or in learning more about the Midwest Shippers Association can call Bob Zelenka, executive director, at 612-252-1453.