Ever wondered about soybeans? Maybe not, but what about edamame?

edamame-2The growing success of Lafayette’s Horse Farm’s farmers’ market makes my heart sing. People are hungry for the fruit (and vegetables) of the region.
Serving fresh and locally grown food makes me feel hopeful. The more we can find locally, the better. I’m sometimes surprised at the variety of foods locally grown, but I’ve wondered for a long time about the possibility of growing one food, in particular, that I’ve never seen available locally.
In fact, every time we’re out for sushi and that bowl of salted green deliciousness arrives at our table, I ponder aloud about the whys of the lack of locally grown edamame. “With all the soybeans grown in Louisiana, why don’t we do edamame?” I ask my family, who sits and stares and keeps eating the edamame.
Finally, I decided to ask the expert.
Dr. Ronnie Levy, Louisiana’s state soybean specialist with the LSU AgCenter, was just the person to answer my question. Like most agricultural experts, he was happy to share his knowledge. I learned that the variety of soybeans grown over most of Louisiana and restaurant-quality edamame are, in fact, the same genus species.
“The real difference is that they’re harvested differently. Edamame has to be hand harvested at the perfect stage,” Levy told me.
He explained that edamame pods are harvested about a month earlier than soybeans, depending on weather conditions. Edamame has to be hand picked when the bean is still immature and the moisture content is at a higher level than traditionally harvested soybeans which are harvested later, once the pod has turned brown and the moisture level is down to about 15 percent, Levy said.
“You could harvest the ones we’re growing and eat them like edamame — if you picked them at the right time,” Levy said. “The size would be different, but I haven’t found much difference in taste in the ones we grow from Louisiana farmers’ fields.”
After my botany lesson for the day, Levy and I got down to business and discussed the math of soybeans and edamame.
Levy told me that soybeans currently sell for around $13.50 a bushel – that’s about 60 pounds of soybeans, dry weight (dry beans only, no pods).
“If you looked at the moisture content (of the beans that would be harvested as edamame), that would even offset the cost even more — those little bags of 12 oz. edamame sell for $3 or $4,” he said.
Handpicked could create jobs, but finding people to take those seasonal jobs is tricky — and expensive. The next biggest drawback is simply that soybeans have never been grown as edamame in Louisiana on any scale before. Even still, I am fascinated by the possibilities. After all, other states have successfully launched edamame crops, especially Ohio and Kentucky. Somebody there had to be the first to take that chance.
To be fair though, even if the math seems encouraging, handpicked green pods are delicate and must be dealt with carefully to avoid spoiling. A farmer willing to take a chance on edamame would have to work out the logistics of what to do with the hand picked pods.
“It’s a specialty market, and you’d have to work out the shelf life. Once you pick them, they start losing quality,” Levy said. “But there’s growing interest in it.”
Louisiana edamame may or may not be a thing of the future, but starting the conversation seems like a good thing.

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