SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING # 10
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
P.O. Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727
Phone (501) 292-3714; E-mail: HN3551@handsnet.org
Keith Richards, Editor
SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING is the bi-monthly voice of
the Southern SAWG, 50 member organizations working for
more sustainable agriculture in 13 Southern states.
Hard copy subscriptions via U. S. postal service:
$15 per year or $25 for two years
CONTENTS, part 2:
* JAPANESE MARKETS PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOUTHERN SOYBEAN
* WHAT'S IN THE NEW FARM BILL
* THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO WORKED ON THE FARM BILL
JAPANESE MARKETS PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOUTHERN SOYBEAN GROWERS
by Keith Richards
Southern farmers who are growing soybeans either
organically or with reduced chemicals have begun tapping
into a lucrative Japanese market. They are producing clear
hilum varieties used by the Japanese to make tofu, tempeh,
soy milk, and other soy foods. The real jewel of this
market, however, is a staple in the Japanese diet known as
Natto is eaten like a traditional fast food by older
Japanese and is found in the dairy case of almost every
grocery store in Japan, according to Tom Reynolds, an
organic producer from Hampton, VA and self-described
"market guru." Soy foods in many forms have been eaten
in Japan for more than a thousand years, yet Japanese
farmers don't produce enough soybeans to satisfy the
consumption, so they must turn to other countries to make
up the difference. Increasingly, they are looking to the
High Quality Translates to High Price
"If I had organic beans, the market is wide open in
Japan," says Mary Jo Wannamaker of L. B.Wannamaker
Seed Company in St. Matthews, SC. Other buyers agree
that finding markets is not a problem. The problem is
finding organic producers who can consistently grow high
quality beans in enough quantity to make exporting
"The Japanese market has the highest standards in
the world," says Tom Reynolds. "A natto bean to the
Japanese is like a gourmet wine." Because natto processing
keeps the whole bean intact, he says, "the Japanese want a
natto bean that is soft-textured with a high sugar content. It
has to be as small as possible, white and beautiful."
It isn't easy to produce to this standard, but those
who do are rewarded with the highest premiums for their
products. Growers have reported prices from $15-$18 per
bushel for natto beans, cleaned and sacked.
"You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to
get the quality they want," according to Brian Ashford of
Circle Grove Seeds in Belhaven, NC, who marketed
organic soybeans to Japan for several years before recently
selling his business. "We're used to going to the elevator
and taking whatever they give us, and maybe getting
docked a little for some lower quality beans." A Japanese
buyer may reject the whole crop.
"We've been focused on producing cheaper to
compete in the world market," he says. "We need to shift
our thinking to a market-oriented philosophy; think about
the customer, provide what they want, and get paid for it.
We need to add value and marketing to our products."
"But marketing isn't easy," Ashford adds. "It
requires an intense effort to satisfy the customer."
How To Enter the Natto Market
To grow organic soybeans for the natto market,
growers we interviewed made the following
1. Find a reputable buyer (preferably in Japan) and
deal with them directly. Several people said that farmers
need to take more control of the marketplace. Mary Jo
Wannamaker suggests contacting your state department of
agriculture's marketing division or the soybean growers
association for names of Japanese trading companies.
2. Get certified through OCIA or OGBA, at least
until the federal organic standards go into effect. This isn't
fair to smaller certifiers across the South, but OCIA and
OGBA are the only labels recognized by Japanese buyers
3. Choose a Japanese natto variety that is approved
by the buyer and will grow well in your area. Many natto
varieties aren't suited to U.S. conditions, but even those that
are will usually have lower yields. Wannamaker says that
you can expect yields to average about 80 percent of
regular soybean yields.
4. Do everything you can to produce top quality.
Peter Cimino of Reynolds, GA feels it is important to
follow good organic practices like well-timed cultivations
and rotations. Paul Vidrine, an organic farmer, certifier,
and consultant from Markle, IN says you really need to
keep harvest damage to a minimum by combining with
care. He says, "Think money when you're on that combine
5. Find an organically certified, reputable cleaner.
Buyers won't tolerate any seed coat damage or splits.
(Clean-out beans can be sold to the local elevator or for
organic feed.) Cimino says, "Our biggest problem around
here was finding a cleaner. We found a small local
processor willing to work with us; then he had to make
modifications in his plant to meet OCIA standards."
6. Grow enough volume to make the extra
marketing time worthwhile. Vidrine believes because of
the risks of unscrupulous brokers and cleaners, "there is a
great business opportunity for a group of farmers to
cooperatively clean and sell their beans."
7. Consider making a long-term commitment. The
Japanese want to work with someone who cares about the
relationship as well as the sale. They are looking for long-
Because there aren't recognized labels for growing
methods other than organic, buyers are more reluctant to
pay premiums to farmers using sustainable practices like
minimum tillage, soil balancing, and integrated pest
management (IPM) if they are not also certified organic.
"If there was a standardized U.S. label--like pesticide free--
then it would probably go over well in Japan," says
However, for growers not able to take advantage of
the organic natto market, there are other opportunities
available. Some Japanese companies are offering
premiums for soybeans not certified organic if they are
grown without pesticides or herbicides. Farmers need to
grow a bean recommended by the Japanese buyer and sign
a contract specifying the growing methods ahead of time.
Even some conventional farmers are finding natto
markets worth exploring. Wannamaker's family has been
growing natto beans by conventional methods and
marketing to Japan for six years. So far, they feel the price
premium--though smaller than for organic--offsets the
lower yield and all the difficulties in dealing with a far-
Farmers who are certified organic may want to
market better yielding soybeans to other Japanese or
American soy foods processors instead of to the natto
manufactorers. David White, an organic farmer near
Darlington, SC, has grown natto beans the past two years
without great success. He feels a combination of weather
conditions and a variety unsuitable for his region
contributed to the problems. This year he is growing 100
acres of a (non-natto) clear hilum variety that is more
suited to his area, and feels he can still get $10-12 per
bushel marketing to a domestic soybean processor.
The Japanese natto market may not be appropriate
for every Southern soybean producer, but it is one example
of the opportunities available to farmers who are willing to
work at marketing in the same way they work on
production. As one wise producer said, "Growing a crop is
only half the job of a farmer, marketing it is the other half."
WHAT'S IN THE NEW FARM BILL?
The "1995 Farm Bill," now called the "Federal
Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996"
(FAIR), finally was passed on March 28, 1996. Most of the
legislation will apply until the year 2002, while the
research title is only a two-year authorization.
Although many provisions of this Act will benefit
corporate agribusiness more than family farming, the
legislation includes some significant gains for sustainable
ag due to the coordinated efforts of the Campaign for
Sustainable Agriculture. Noteworthy programs and
* Full extension of the Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP), with authority for new and re-
enrollments. Some CRP land can be bid-out of the
program after five years, although the most highly erodible
acres, filter strips, or other key partial field enrollments
* A new Conservation Farm Option, which will
allow innovative use of conservation programs to support
whole farm approaches, such as use of CRP to support
* Environmental Quality Incentives Program,
merges conservation cost-share programs into a program
with mandatory spending levels that are almost double the
current funding levels and are not subject to annual
* Wetlands Reserve Program, which includes
permanent easements and mandatory spending not subject
to yearly appropriations cuts.
* Fund For Rural America, provides $100 million
a year for three years in mandatory spending for rural
programs such as minority and beginning farmer programs,
rural housing assistance, and value-added marketing
projects, as well as sustainable ag research. The Fund is to
be divided one-third for rural development, one-third for
research, and one-third for either, at the discretion of the
Secretary of Agriculture.
* Farmland Protection Fund, which provides
federal matching funds to state and local farmland
* Community Food Security Act, providing $1
million in 1996 and $2.5 million a year through 2002 in
mandatory matching grants for food security initiatives
linking farmers with low income communities.
To receive copies of the actual Farm Bill
legislation, contact your Congressmember or the U.S.
House document room, 202-225-3456, and ask for
HR2854. For more information on the Community Food
Security Act, contact: Kate Fitzgerald, Sustainable Food
Center, 1715 E. 6th St, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78703; 512-
472-2073; e-mail HN2953@handsnet.org. For more
information on the implementation and appropriations
process for these programs, contact Julie Burns, 12 Laurel
Ave, Asheville, NC 28804; 704-255-8376; e-mail
We wish to extend a heartfelt "thank you" to
everyone who worked in support of the Campaign for
Sustainable Agriculture over the past three years. Every
letter, call, fax, and meeting with members of Congress
contributed to the victories for sustainable ag in the final
Farm Bill. There is no question that the Campaign's
success in a difficult climate was significantly affected by
the pressure applied by the "grassroots"--YOU!
There is no rest for the weary, however. The annual
ag appropriations process has begun again in Washington.
We need to communicate the importance of programs such
as SARE, ATTRA, Beginning Farm Credit, Organic
Certification, Minority Farmer Assistance, and CRP to our
Congressmembers so they will receive adequate funding.
Because of the membership of the appropriations
committees, key states are Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Mississippi, and Georgia. If you live in these states, you
may be hearing from Julie Burns, Margaret Krome, or Janet
Bachmann (AR) about how you can help protect vital
sustainable ag programs. If you weren't involved last year,
please consider helping out this year with a letter or call
when notified. --Julie Burns, Southern region coordinator,
Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
Connect Mail Sent: May 10, 1996 8:10 am PDT Item: R00RA2B