Plant-based Proteins, the Impossible Burger and Their Impact on Agriculture

By Halderman

12 /27 /19

The Impossible Burger is changing the veggie burger game. Simulating the juiciness of a regular burger and its ability to take on a charred surface, the Impossible Burger is finding favor with meat eaters and vegetarians alike. With national restaurant chains adding it to their menus, can this burger and other plant-based foods alter the way farmers look at their operation and crop rotations?

The Impossible Burger is being rolled out at national fast food chains

Fast food chains experimented with veggie burgers in the past, but most of those products were soy-based and either leathery, tasteless or both. As opposed to a plant-based burger that only a desperate vegetarian or vegan would order, the Impossible Burger is meeting with rave reviews from plant and meat eaters alike.

The Impossible Burger is sold in restaurants around the world. One example is the Impossible Whopper at Burger King. The sandwich is credited in large part with driving parent company Restaurant Brands' best quarter in four years for Q2 of 2019.

Will plant-based food offerings change crop dynamics?

Debates are ongoing in the scientific community about the environmental impact of beef versus plant-based burgers. In general, growing plants for protein substitutes (like beef) requires less space and fewer resources than needed for raising livestock. There is research finding that plants have the potential to be more efficient in terms of feeding greater numbers of people. Wealthier societies tend to consume more meat relative to their overall calorie consumption, but lower per capita income economies consume a much higher percentage of plant-based protein.

Statistics indicate that while 18% of the world's calories come from meat and dairy, these utilize approximately 80% of all farmland, when you factor in the acres needed to grow the feed for the livestock. With the success of the Impossible Burger and competing products, consumers may increase demand for high-quality plant-based products. This could then increase demand for high-quality vegetables, legumes, and other crops that provide the basis for the new generation of plant-based burgers and other meal offerings.

How farmers can take advantage of plant-based offerings

Is there a way farmers can benefit from this trend toward more plant-based proteins? Depending on the region, climate, soils and markets there could be new crops to consider to improve farm incomes and enhance the rotation. Farmers will need to evaluate each opportunity and make sure there is a market, education/training and a contract for their production before jumping into a new crop.

An example is yellow peas. Designated by the USDA as dry peas, yellow peas are raised by farmers using only GMO-free seeds. With sales of substitute meat products anticipated to increase by 50% through 2022 to nearly $7 billion, many farmers will be trying to determine whether they can participate in the boom.

Cultivating yellow peas, however, takes specific expertise and climate conditions. Montana and North Dakota are the leading growers of yellow peas. The crop also contributes nitrogen to the soil, so farmers often include it with wheat to improve soil conditions. Midwestern farmers may find it relatively difficult to grow the crop due to different soil conditions and weather patterns.

Halderman Real Estate and Farm Management is not promoting or suggesting the Impossible Burger is a good replacement for beef. In fact, here at Halderman we love our beef and support the beef industry and the grain farms that feed it. At the same time, we believe it is important to be aware of trends like the Impossible Burger and their impact on growers and farm owners. Please call us to discuss your farm acquisition and management needs.