The Battle for the Soybean Market Is Heating Up

Soybeans may become the U.S.'s biggest crop in coming years. But with Monsanto stumbling a bit, is a new player set to take over the market?

United Soybean Board on Flickr

One of the biggest players in the lucrative GMO soybean field is having trouble, and where there's trouble, there's opportunists.

American farmers planted 89.5 million acres of soybeans in 2017, making it the second-most popular crop, just behind corn. Now Reuters reports that, given Monsanto’s recent trouble, two of the other massive corporations in the agrochemical world are stepping up to create or promote competitors.

Monsanto, with its glyphosate- and dicamba-resistant genetically modified crops, owns major shares of both the corn and soybeans seed markets. But they’ve hit some bumps recently: pests are becoming resistant to glyphosate, and dicamba has been a disaster, having wrecked millions of acres of farmland, with some states, like Arkansas, going so far as to ban it. Monsanto, which maintains that the dicamba’s issues are due to farmer error, isn’t exactly hurting too bad—they sold enough of their dicamba-resistant soybeans, which go by the name XtendiMax with VaporGrip, in 2017 to span 20 million acres, and the company predicts that number to nearly triple by 2019. But despite the success, outrage over the damage caused by the product, and the legislative and legal response to that outrage, puts the company in a weakened position.

Reuters says that two of the biggest corporations in the industry—BASF and DowDuPont—are getting ready to release their own genetically modified soybeans to compete, according to clues put together by Reuters based on acquisitions and company statements.

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DowDuPont’s version, called Enlist E3, is waiting on Chinese regulatory approval. Why? Any wide release of a GMO soybean would result in their eventually ending up in China (accidentally or surreptitiously). China is the world’s biggest buyer of the product and it’s in DowDuPont’s advantage to make sure they’re given the green light, lest the country decide to ban the seeds. Dow is being very careful with Enlist, forcing any early North American farmers trying it out—it should be released sometime in 2018 in limited amounts—to keep it within North America. Enlist E3, as its name suggests, is resistant to a whopping three herbicides: glyphosate, glufosinate, and 2,4-D. Previous versions of Enlist, including the glyphosate/2,4-D combination Enlist Duo, have attracted lawsuits and protests from groups like the Center for Food Safety.

BASF, on the other hand, announced in October that it is acquiring an older soybean line from Bayer CropScience. LibertyLink, as it’s called, already has about a 15 percent market share, according to Bayer. LibertyLink is resistant to glufosinate, a glyphosate-like herbicide. Glufosinate-resistant GMO soybeans first hit the market in 2011.

Soybeans are already on track to become the US’s biggest crop by acreage. But this news seems to indicate that there’ll likely be an array of new, or new-ish, options. Some farmers choose to plant multiple varieties each year, hedging bets against the possibility of one variety not working out. With multiple new systems around, farmers may end up trying out a few new types.

The Battle for the Soybean Market Is Heating Up