Corteva and Bunge team up to develop amino acid enhanced soybeans

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Jevtic
© GettyImages/Jevtic

Related tags Soybean Protein

Corteva and Bunge are looking to boost the nutrition profile of soybean meal for the animal feed industry, notably poultry, swine, and aqua feed.

The companies are participating in a multi-year collaboration to develop and commercialize soybean varieties that can create a potential new value stream opportunity for soybean farmers. A further aim of the initiative is to give feed compounders a new option to reduce their use of synthetic additives, lower costs, and shrink their carbon footprint.

Over-expressing methionine and lysine will make soybean meal an even better ingredient for feed application, claimd Kaleb Belzer, VP, protein ingredients, Bunge.

Corteva will leverage its expertise in germplasm, gene editing, and traits discovery to develop soybean varieties with greater protein content, optimized amino acid profiles, and lower levels of anti-nutritional factors, while Bunge will process the oilseed and be the exclusive supplier of the high-value meal and oil that results.

Early field trial research has validated this approach to boosting protein levels, reported Corteva. The data indicates it is possible to significantly increase the proportion of the key amino acids - methionine and lysine - in soybeans while maintaining high field and oil yields, added the publicly traded company.

The next step in the project is bringing the higher-protein, enhanced-amino acid profile into a commercial soybean variety. The companies expect such enriched bean varieties to be on the market by late this decade.

Innovation challenge

Last year saw the United Soybean Board (USB), which works on behalf of US soy farmers, and The Yield Lab Institute (YLI) challenge ​companies to innovate to increase the use and value of soybean meal (SBM) in existing markets.

“Soybean oil demand is increasing as a feedstock for renewable energy, creating unique opportunities for soybean farmers. But an increase in expanded crush for oil means higher meal supply. With US soybean meal’s strong reputation as a high value product, additional pathways are necessary to advance consumption both domestically and internationally,”​ said Ralph Lott, USB chair and farmer, at the launch of the Soy Innovation Challenge.

Volume over value model

Former Bunge procurement director, Gordon Denny, who also advices the United Soybean Board, participated in a recent FeedNavigator webinar​, with the consultant outlining how the US soy industry is slowing shifting away from a volume over value model to one focused on both higher yields and beans with higher protein content.  

The market for SBM is limited by the demand constraints of US poultry and livestock production, as well as competition from alternative ingredients, storage capacity and transportation challenges, said the partners. That contest was aiming to address such problems.

The initiative sought innovation to boost the use and value for SBM in livestock farming, aquaculture, pet food and food.

Soybean meal with higher protein content 

In May last year, Perdue AgriBusiness backed technology designed to boost oil and protein content of soybeans ​without risking yield. It established a collaboration with US startup, Zeakal, which tweaks genetic crop traits to improve their rates of photosynthesis.

The startup claims its PhotoSeed technology has consistently resulted in improved oil and protein content while enhancing the sustainability index of the soy crop. During the 2021 growing season, it said PhotoSeed soybean events increased oil composition by 12% while increasing protein by one point.

Traditionally, increasing oil or protein meant sacrificing the other or reducing yield. This is because soy oil and protein historically have an inverse relationship: if oil increases by 1%, protein drops by 2%, and composition improvements typically have a yield penalty. Over time, as breeders have prioritized yield, the consequence has been declines in protein. But Zeakal claims that PhotoSeed decouples the inverse oil-protein relationship. It increases both of these co-products in plants while maintaining the yields that growers demand.

Perdue AgriBusiness handles about three million acres’ worth of soybeans per year. Transforming this acreage to PhotoSeed soy means growers would benefit from a higher value crop and Perdue would gain access to beans with improved oil and higher protein content. 

New oilseed crop in the works

Bunge is also involved in another collaborative partnership in relation to oilseed innovation. Last April, the agribusiness group revealed it was teaming up with Cress Inc (CCI) to develop the supply chain for a new biofuel and feed targeted oilseed.

CCI is a startup developing a new winter oilseed crop under the CoverCress brand. Founded in 2013, the company is converting the common winter annual, field pennycress, using plant breeding to improve yield and maturity and gene editing tools to improve fiber and oil composition.

CoverCress seed would allow corn and soybean farmers to add a new crop into their rotation on existing land during winter, while offering the ecosystem benefits of a cover crop, including improved soil health and carbon sequestration, said CCI and Bunge.

The crop would generate farm revenue as a whole grain feed ingredient, or when processed, as a low carbon intensity oil for renewable fuel production, and as a high-protein meal for livestock and poultry feed.

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