Soybean breeder Jerry Lorenzen believes soy protein is the key to feeding a booming world population. That belief inspired him to start researching and breeding food-grade soybeans after he graduated from Iowa State University. Fifteen years later, his varieties and ideas are bearing significant fruit.

Earlier this year, Lorenzen - now president of FTE Genetics, Oskaloosa, IA, - joined with growers and processors in several new projects, including the manufacture and marketing of a tofu-pork bratwurst product, a whole-bean conditioning plant and a fine soy powder (FSP) processing plant. He contracted with a number of producers in Iowa and Minnesota this year - and it's just the beginning.

"At peak production - 4 to 5 million bushels annually - we're looking at around 100,000 acres of beans," says John Pape, director of specialty operations at FTE. And that's just for whole beans to run through the conditioning facility.

Lorenzen and FTE partnered with Japanese businessman Zentaro Iwamoto and a small group of investors to create the World Food Park. The 56-acre industrial park, near Oskaloosa, is home to the new $4 million, state-of-the-art soybean conditioning and processing facilities known as World Food Processing.

The two separate facilities will take up about 23 acres of the site. The conditioning facility will be online this month and the FSP processing plant will be operational in May or June of 2000.

Hopes are that the remainder of the park will eventually be filled with other related businesses - possibly even food manufacturers that will utilize the FSP.

World Food Processing will offer contracts to southern Iowa growers to fulfill the needs of the two plants. Both will exclusively utilize FTE varieties, which are not commercially available.

Conditioning-facility premiums "vary depending on the variety and what (type of) beans the customer wants," says Pape. But the company has committed to a minimum premium of $1/bu for beans grown for the FSP plant.

Lorenzen notes that there are markets for both organic and non-organic products, and contracts will be offered for both. Growers are expected to segregate the soybeans, preserving the identity of the varieties.

The conditioned beans will be largely for export to Europe and Asia, with a small percentage for domestic use. Beans that don't meet the high specifications for whole-bean conditioning can sometimes be processed into powder. The FSP will be marketed domestically and exported, mainly to Asia, according to Pape.

The FSP plant will be the first of its kind in the world using Iwamoto's patented processing system. According to Lorenzen, the FSP can be used in several ways. It can be added to foods for increased protein or, in underdeveloped regions, simply mixed with drinking water to prevent malnutrition.