The soybean is a major crop worldwide but not in Georgia. Crops like peanuts, vegetables and cotton are kings here. University of Georgia research into a new variety with a “less-beany” taste, however, could change all that.

“Soybeans are still considered a minor crop in Georgia,” says Phillip Jost, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension soybean and cotton agronomist. “With the potential for drought in Georgia, soybeans aren’t as economically feasible as other crops.”

But a new variety, L-Star, may help boost soybeans’ popularity among Georgia farmers and open up new markets.

L-Star was developed by the National Agricultural Research Organization in Japan. A naturally deodorized soybean, he says, it doesn't contain lipoxygenase, the enzyme linked to the off-flavor, beany taste.

“L-Star is favorable for use in food products,” Jost says.

L-Star doesn't grow well in the Midwest, he says, where most of the nation’s crop is grown. But it could thrive in Georgia, where it could get the required day and night lengths it needs.

“Soybean flowering is dictated by night length, and the Midwest's night length isn’t long enough to initiate flowering,” he says. “Even if it were, the frost in that area would kill the buds before they could bloom.”

University of Georgia food scientists on the Griffin, Ga., campus created two new L-Star soybean food products: a soy milk and a tofu. And UGA Food Chemist Dick Phillips has developed a test to ensure that soybean lots are truly L-Star beans.

There's still a major obstacle to overcome before the crop can take off in Georgia. Farmers planted about 200 acres in the state last year and faced problems at harvest time.

“The beans shatter easily,” Jost says. “With L-Star, when the beans dry, the pods open and the beans fall out before the combine can come in the field to harvest.”

UGA researchers are now working to help farmers address the harvesting dilemma.

Soybean growers, researchers and industry representatives gathered for an update on the crop Feb. 2 at the Nessmith-Lane Building on the Georgia Southern University campus in Statesboro, Ga. The meeting was sponsored by the Georgia-Florida Soybean Association.

Each year, U.S. farmers plant 70 million acres of soybeans. In Georgia, the crop comes in behind corn and wheat, averaging 180,000 acres. The state's farmers devote 1.3 million acres to cotton and 700,000 acres to peanuts.

Soybeans are very susceptible to drought in the sandy soils of Georgia's Coastal Plain, Jost says. Farmers generally get paid less for soybeans here than growers in the Midwest get. As a result, Georgia growers use their irrigated acres for higher-value crops like cotton, peanuts and vegetables.

Soybeans were first planted in Georgia as a forage crop for animals, Jost says. Farmers grow them here now primarily as an oilseed crop.

The beans are harvested and crushed into oil for cooking products. The meal that's left after crushing is used as an animal feed and a food ingredient.

Soybean oil can also be used to produce biodiesel, Jost says. Experts with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are conducting biodiesel feasibility studies and biotechnology research on the crop.