After years of growing soybeans and corn on his Cole County farm, Kelly Forck has been looking for a way to add value to the commodities he produces. He was recently able to tap into an unusual opportunity: beer made with soybeans.
In an effort to provide farmers an additional source of revenue, a group of Missouri agricultural producers purchased a brewery in Kansas City and formed TransCon AG, a 100 percent farmer-owned cooperative.
Great Plains Brewing Co. is the only farmer-owned microbrewery in America and produces three kinds of beer under the Pony Express label.
Pony Gold, the brewery’s flagship beer, has been available since last summer. Other varieties include Rattlesnake Pale Ale and Original Wheat, which was introduced in January. What makes the beer special is that all of the varieties contain a 6 percent soy additive made from Missouri soybeans.
“The reason I got involved in this project is because there is a lot of value to me when I can return dollars to my operation and market a finished product,” Forck said.
Forck is among 152 farmers who have invested in the new generation cooperative. Unlike traditional cooperatives, new generation cooperatives operate on a closed membership — no other farmers are being sought as investors.
One of the groups involved in the cooperative is the Missouri Soybean Association. Dale Ludwig, executive director, said the association always looks for additional ways to generate value and revenue for its members.
“This cooperative is a great example of a progressive strategy to create additional value for farmers that is unaffected by the growth in South America,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig said the idea for a soy-based beer stemmed from discussions the association had with groups of farmers.
“A group of farmers came to us interested in trying to get something going, and they recalled having heard of a recipe for beer made with soy,” he said.
The association maintains its involvement with the business by holding a position on the cooperative’s board of directors.
“Three of the most common reasons that cooperatives don’t always work is because they are underfinanced, blow up their equity or have poor management,” Ludwig said. “We feel that it is our responsibility to stay involved, help with financing and management.”
While the idea of beer made with soybeans is still catching on, the nutritional benefits of soybeans may propel the beer forward.
Monty Kerley is a professor of animal sciences at MU and frequently does research for the Missouri Soybean Association. He has been involved in the Pony Express project by completing a nutritional analysis for the brewery.
Kerley’s analysis dealt with food-label laws and touched on nutritional aspects of the product.
Soy contains protein, fiber and carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides — all of which are nutritionally beneficial, Kerley said.
“Since these health benefits are found in soybeans, you can expect them to carry over to the beer as well,” he said.
Since the product has been introduced, the beer has found its way to the Columbia area in bars and at retailers. Fechtel Beverage and Sales in Jefferson City distributes the brand to several mid-Missouri customers, including Tropical Liqueurs on Broadway.
Bartender Jay Sparks said that Pony Gold beer is on tap and that the bar has been pleased with the reaction it’s been getting.
“Tropical Liqueurs is not necessarily known for beer,” Sparks said. “We have Budweiser and Bud Light on tap, and we recently added Pony Express.”Sparks said that some customers see the Pony Express label and their curiosity will often lead to a taste of the beer.
“We explain to people that it is a local product that Missouri farmers are involved in, tell them about the soy and a lot of people think it’s really interesting,” Sparks said. “Based on what I’ve seen, customer awareness is low, but the satisfaction is high.”