Niche Soybean Farming in the Mid-Atlantic
Niche farming has evolved since the tobacco buyout almost 10 years ago, but some farmers have been at for some time, like Bryan Taliaferro of Montague Farms based in Center Cross, Virginia. They grow and contract a specific soybean especially for Japanese export:
“Its for a food product exclusively in Japan called MATO. Its made by a simple process; they soak the soybeans until they swell up and then they steam them. Then they apply a fermentation bacteria. It’s then packaged into small packages and its bought fresh as a refrigerated product.”
Taliaferro says it was a perfect storm of sorts, in the mid-1980’s they were approached by the Tokyo office of Virginia Department of Agriculture to grow this particular type of soybean and it was also the year that the Vance variety of bean was introduced, which perfectly met the strict needs of the Japanese market. After spending a year increasing their own seed bank, they’ve been growing the special bean ever since. But, Taliaferro says certain production protocols have to be observed:
“We do specify certain protocols involving the production. However it cannot be said to be organic. We do use chemicals for control of weeds and certain insects from time to time. But it is production with a view towards having no pesticide residues of any kind in the seed.”
And growers are also asked to avoid contamination by GMO beans from other fields:
“One of the requirements for this market is that there be no contamination with GMO varieties. We honor that request and require our growers to make sure their equipment is clean and void of any other soybean seed that might be GMO. They have to clean out all the equipment regularly.”
The Montague Farms growers are located from the eastern shore of Maryland to North Carolina, and to the Shenandoah Valley to the west.
Taliaferro says that all acres are grown under contract, with a $3.25 premium for acceptable beans. Beans that are culled will go into the regular soybean use pool, and then they’re shipped raw in bulk to Japan.