Charles Fry said 2010 is a year to concentrate on making contacts with customers, establishing credibility and branding the region as the U.S. spot for growing edamame.
Fry, a partner with his father, Jerry Fry, in American Sweet Bean Co. of Old Fort, said the business is steadily growing.
"This year's all about sales for us. We have good customer contacts established," Fry said. "We know how to grow it.
"We still think we can grow 3,000-4,000 tons in this region - several thousands acres," he added.
It will take a few years for the company to get there.
"The selling process is always challenging," he said. "My impatience comes not so much from needing to do it all right away. I just don't want us to get cut off by another part of the country.
"I want to see Ohio established as the prime place to grow this crop in the U.S.," he said. "We're expanding the tonnage up about 25 percent over last year."
Fry declined to be specific on acreage, yields and other details because he said he wants to protect Ohio's opportunity. He said that would provide too much information for competitors.
"I want to protect our advantage for as long as possible," he said. "We're trying to be as careful as we can."
Fry said the company hopes to enter the national food industry soon.
"There's a big jump between being a grow-local, buy-local business and going national," he said. "There's this canyon you have to get over if you're going to be in the national food business."
There are 15,000-20,000 tons of edamame imported into the United Stated from China each year, he said.
"This year we'll grow a few hundred tons," he said. "(Buyers) want to know they're going to have a year's supply."
Fry said he is walking a fine line between growing the bean and selling it.
"The reality of farming is we get one shot a year," he said. "We could have a customer show up in July and they want to buy, but there's nothing he can do until the following spring."
Fry said the economic downturn has slowed the process.
"The one thing that we can't change is that we can grow one crop a year in Ohio," he said. "We have commitments now for everything we'll grow this year.
"The timeline is very interesting. I'm trying to satisfy the guy two years down the road," he said. "Three years is what it amounts to when you lay it all out.
"It amounts to three years of guessing," he said. "And because of the way farming works, some of those guesses can't be undone."
Fry said some U.S. companies are interested in replacing their Chinese imports with American-grown edamame.
"We want to replace Chinese supply with American supply," he said. He estimated that goal will take four or five years to reach.
"We think U.S. consumption is growing 8-10 percent a year," he said. "It just keeps getting bigger, but you have to figure out how to get started."
In the meantime, Fry said he is working with the University of Tennessee to develop edamame varieties suited to Seneca County soils.
He said he acquired a small number of seeds of an Asian variety and spent much of the winter in Central America working on developing seed.
"I'm not down there to harvest edamame as a crop, but I can harvest it as seed," he said.
He said he planted a crop in November and harvested in February.
"We cleaned, bagged and shipped it back up here and we grow it again up here," he said. "We just grow and harvest until we get enough seed to plant a field. If we do that only in the U.S., it takes twice as long."
But Fry said he sees a bright future for edamame and the American Sweet Bean Co.
He sees packages in the freezer section of grocery stores and would like to see the vegetable as part of the school lunch program.
During a recent agriculture education day for county fourth-graders hosted by Seneca County Farm Bureau, Fry taught students about the new food and encouraged them to taste it.
"Seventy-five percent lined up to take handfuls with them," he said.