FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas farmers plant about 3.3 million acres of soybeans each year, and the business may become more lucrative thanks to a new soybean variety developed by a professor with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
The edamame variety that's being planted this month on about 900 acres is to be served at the table, as opposed to the commodity soybean production that dominates the state. Edamame is popular in Asian countries, and demand has been growing in the United States. The steamed beans are served as snacks or in soups or salads and can be served warm or cold.
The variety developed by Professor Pengyin Chen for growing conditions in Arkansas is being planted under contract with American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame, Inc. The company is building a 32,000-square-foot plant in Mulberry to process, package and ship edamame. It will be the first plant of its kind in the U.S.
Chief Executive Officer Kelly Cartwright said he expects acreage to double next growing season and further growth in the years following. The processing facility will open with about 40 full-time workers this summer or fall and grow to 60 employees within three years, he said.
"We don't see a ceiling on the market for edamame that will be shipped from Mulberry," Cartwright said.
JYC International, the processor's parent company, imports edamame from China and plans to market edamame grown in Arkansas to warehouse club chains and other retailers.
The endeavor marks the first time edamame products grown in the U.S. will be marketed on a commercial scale, according to the UA Division of Agriculture.
"We are excited to be part of the larger Arkansas community and the city of Mulberry as we work together to make this new vegetable soybean industry successful and sustainable," JYC President J.Y. "Gene" Chung said.
Rice is Arkansas' largest cash crop, but soybean production accounts for vastly more acreage. Soybeans this year consume about three times as much land as the 1.16 million acres of rice planted.