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Ontario Soybean Producers find a Sweet Spot

(8 June - Cropchoice News) -- Snobelen Farms, with three elevators and 400 contract producers, has found a bulk carrier sized niche in the soybean market. Since 1997, Snobelen Farms has specialized in conventional beans. The effort has paid off. Primarily sold to European customers, the company's beans earn an extra 27 cents ($0.40 Canadian) a bushel. Last year more than 40,000 tons were exported.

Situated around Lucknow, Ontario (pop. 1,200), growers contracting with Snobelen's elevators are planting almost 60,000 acres of conventional beans this year. They attracted a recent profile in Britain's Farmers Weekly magazine. According to Mike Snobelen, head of the family-operated business, "We're just giving customers what they want."

For the Ontario producers, the additional work of maintaining a tight identity preserved system has become easier over time and is more than offset by profits. Snobelen told Farmers Weekly that, at first, "I had to continually preach the principles of quality assurance, but today many other growers are coming up with ideas that are simpler and better." Most of the Snobelen Farms beans wind up in European soy milk and baked goods.

One way Snobelen and the Lucknow growers stay friendly with their market is to take care with seed production. Mike Snobelen told Cropchoice that high Canadian seed standards have helped to keep customers happy and that he sometimes buys seed right from breeders. Snobelen Farms is a certified seed grower. When importing US material, Snobelen keeps a careful eye out for off-types. "It's called roguing and roguing and roguing and roguing," jokes good-natured Snobelen about the hard work. Foreign buyers have been known to climb into silos to test harvests themselves. Snobelen says they've never had any trouble with contamination.

Asked about future plans, Snobelen says that he's got well-organized Canadian and US competition. He's happy selling to the hot food grade European market right now; but that he's keeping a very close eye on animal feed markets. If demand for non-biotech feed picks up, Snobelen Farms hopes to jump into that market as well.

SOURCE: Snobelen Farms, Farmers Weekly