US Soybean Farmers See Growth Potential in Edamame

by Jeannie Nuss, The Associated Press  on Friday, Mar. 29, 2013 7:31 am  

Edamame are young, green soybeans popular in Asian cooking.  (Photo by Shutterstock.com)

"Once it's harvested, you've got a certain amount of time to get it to the processing plant to get it processed or you start losing quality and you start losing product," said Jeremy Ross, an extension soybean specialist at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Gaesser has been growing edamame for several years now and said he would consider planting more, but there's not a processing plant close enough to his farm to make it practical.

In Arkansas, Chung and his father convinced nearby farmers to grow some 900 acres of edamame last year for his company, American Vegetable Soybean & Edamame Inc. He plans to increase that number this year, although he wouldn't say by exactly how much. He wouldn't allow The Associated Press to talk to his farmers, either, citing confidentiality agreements.

Chung is protective of his company's share of what he estimates is a $175 million to $200 million market, with 25,000 to 30,000 tons of edamame being consumed each year in the United States.

All the edamame frozen at his plant about 140 miles northwest of Little Rock is grown in the U.S. Chung and Gaesser said that edamame could be more profitable for farmers than other kinds of soybeans.

Chung's company is selling now to stores including Sam's Club and Whole Foods. Someday, he hopes to export American-grown edamame to Asia, where people have been eating it for centuries.

"There's a big middle class that's emerging in China, and they're becoming more educated about food choices," Chung said. "And so, to them, when they see a 'Made in the USA' label . . . they want it."

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