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19 December 1996


Australia is gearing up to sell the raw material for the Japanese equivalent of Vegemite -- a brown, salty, sticky substance called Natto -- to the Japanese. A $25 million export market for culinary soybean is set to open up within the next three years as a result of innovative research conducted by CSIRO Tropical Agriculture.

Andrew James, CSIRO research scientist, is developing a range of new soybean varieties with grain quality matching requirements of the high value culinary markets in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

It is expected that grain of the new varieties will be worth over $600 per tonne, while grain of current food grade varieties only achieves a premium of $50 to $80 over that of beans used for crushing.

Soybeans specially bred to match stringent quality criteria receive a higher price because a greater quantity of better quality food product is able to be produced. For example, soybean grain with a higher proportion of the right types of protein can produce a higher yield of Tofu (bean curd) with a better texture.

Mr James said the market for culinary soybeans is large. Japan alone imports 200 000 tonnes of culinary soybeans a year.

"Australian producers have an advantage in that we can supply high quality fresh grain out of season to the northern hemisphere."

Mr James said that the culinary breeding program began 18 months ago with a range of soybean varieties introduced from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. These lines are being 'converted' to Australian growing conditions whilst retaining the quality criteria of the original variety.

"This is a tall order in some cases," Mr James said. "Some of the original parent lines were extremely early maturing in Australia, suffered from many diseases, and were prone to severe seed shattering at maturity."

"The first batch of lines suited to Tofu and to Natto production will be grown at Cecil Plains, Gatton and the Burdekin this summer. If some of these lines prove acceptable to both graingrowers and food processors, a new variety should be commercially available within three years."

The soybean project is an initiative of the CSIRO Tropical Agri-Exports program.