The promise of each growing season begins with a seed.

As we plant each seed, we’re focused on getting it off to a strong start. Our goal is to care for that seed and use it to produce as many soybeans as possible. After all, that’s how we’re compensated and rewarded for a job well done.

For the last 50 years, those of us at the beginning of the soybean value chain have focused on volume and bushels. While at the end of the value chain, customers demand quality meal and oil products.

This disconnect results in a disjointed system where seed companies, farmers and elevators don’t often think about how we’re producing a protein and oil product. Additionally, we are not getting a strong signal from the market that these levels are important.

Meanwhile, end users purchase the meal and oil we produce, at some price, and seek alternatives when soy products are deficient.

United Soybean Board’s Focus on the Future

Just as we envision the future for that tiny seed we plant at the beginning of each season, farmer-leaders with the United Soybean Board, the national soy checkoff board, are working to build value and create the future for our industry.

While quantity will likely remain a focus going forward, we know a greater emphasis on customer needs and soybean constituents, such as protein and oil, is key to ensuring long-term profit potential for soybean farmers and the entire soybean industry.

Adding more value to the industry means changing the way our soy products are evaluated and purchased. We are examining multiple strategies to align our collective focus on keeping demand for U.S. soy strong.

We can’t do this alone. Transforming the industry will require collaboration and insight from everyone in the value chain, including elevators and processors. The first step to adding more value and meeting customer needs is working together to ensure greater transparency through better data and measurement.

Greater Use of Measurement Technology

The most common technology used to quickly analyze soybeans for protein and oil is near infrared reflectance (NIR). This technology can document soybean oil and protein levels, while also capturing moisture content. The United Soybean Board is working with NIR companies to document consistency and accuracy of this technology, and has ambitious goals to see it more widely adopted across the value chain.

Greater use of NIR technology at the elevator level, for example, could lead to increased protein and oil content for the entire crop by providing better information to farmers.

With this additional information, farmers can select seeds with traits end users want, and that in turn motivates seed companies to emphasize such traits in their plant-breeding programs.

Measuring protein and oil content will also enable the elevator to segregate soybeans based on those levels, allowing them to capture more value to meet end-user demand.

Converting Measurement Data Into Financial Rewards

Some processors offer premiums to farmers who deliver a higher value product. While premiums may be small in some cases, they send the right message that protein and oil content matter.

Raising the average protein and/or oil content of the U.S. soybean crop could have a huge impact on overall value. It would also help U.S. soy maintain a strong position as a preferred source for human, animal and industrial uses.

Just as soybean seeds don’t spring from the ground the day they are planted, the U.S. soy industry isn’t going to transform overnight. Making the industry more profitable will take all of us one step – or one soybean – at a time. Together, we can meet the needs of our customers, add more value for our operations and ensure there is a strong market for our products in the future.