A new organization aims to help Arkansas farmer realize opportunities in non-GMO food and agriculture markets. The Natural Soybean and Grain Alliance (NSGA) was established in 2015 after co-founders Kelly Cartwright and Lanny Ashlock helped develop the edamame food soybean industry in Arkansas.
“We’re trying to develop markets for non-GMO soybeans,” says Cartwright, NSGA’s executive director.
NSGA worked with the University of Arkansas’s soybean breeding program and begin licensing non-GMO, value-added soybean seed varieties to sell to the state’s farmers. The soybean varieties include high-protein food- and feed-grade varieties and a high yielding commodity grade variety called DrewSoy 5.0. The soybean is insect and disease resistant and has performed well in university trials in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Missouri.
NSGA’s goal with the three non-GMO soybean varieties is to “add value to the bottom lines of producers,” says Cartwright.
Arkansas is one of the leading state producers of non-GMO soybeans in the U.S. Five to 10 percent of Arkansas’s soybeans are non-GMO, there is significant production of natto and edamame soybeans, and the University of Arkansas is well-known for its non-GMO soybean breeding program.
“A lot of growers produce non-GMO soybeans as part of their crop rotations,” Cartwright says. “They grow them because the seed is cheaper, the maturity group fits their rotations well, and they get better weed control.”
Arkansas’s soybean farmers also earn premium prices selling feed-grade non-GMO soybeans to a major poultry producer in the state, Ozark Mountain Poultry.
“They’re an excellent company and have been offering a really good premium program for farmers for several years,” Cartwright says.
NSGA is seeking out similar non-GMO opportunities for its producers.
“We try to vet market opportunities and let producers know about them. We always have the producers in mind,” he says.
Beyond non-GMO soybeans, NSGA is seeking opportunities with specialty crops, aromatic rice, and organic crops.
NSGA is also developing a non-GMO certification program for its growers.
“It’s a certification program that farmers will adhere to and add value to their soybeans,” Cartwright says. “It’s an accountability system, not unlike the Non-GMO Project but on a more specialized scale.”
NSGA is still in its early stages but Cartwright is optimistic. “We’re small and trying to make this work,” he says.