Meeting end-user needs promises a profitable future for U.S. soy.
For generations, U.S. farmers have been tied to the notion that we feed the world. Indeed, we have produced the volume of food and feed needed to sustain much of the global population. However, we must recognize that today there are competitors in nearly every agricultural sector. Ag commodities are produced around the world and international purchasers can exercise their economic power by shopping around different origins for perceived value differences. This leads to variation in price throughout the marketplace.
How are soybeans and soybean products differentiated? Traditional grain grading standards (moisture, foreign material, etc.) are often the first layer of differentiation. While these provide a good starting point, and are easily measured, it’s up to us to raise the bar on measurement. The ultimate judge in determining the value of a soybean, or soybean meal, is the animal that eats the product. As a livestock feed ingredient, soybeans primarily supply essential amino acids and energy to the growing animal to make muscle and other proteins.
Measuring the composition of a soybean, such as essential amino acids, is not so easy. First, animal species, and even specific growth stages, have different nutritional requirements; so one soybean may not be universally suited for all animal feeds. Second, measurement of amino acids is expensive and time-intensive by laboratory methods.
Animal nutritionists know that soybean meal is not a simple and generic commodity. Measurement of protein and oil levels is also improving. Newly developed near-infrared (NIR) instruments and calibrations are allowing researchers in the industry to evaluate soybeans and soybean products. Eventually, improved instruments will be available to the whole value chain. I believe that this will lead to a more transparent marketplace, and I am convinced that farmers will be rewarded for producing not only a higher quantity of product, but also a product recognizing more value.
U.S. farmers have the ability to produce high quality soybeans. Let us strive to be the world’s first choice. Driving demand by providing a premium product will put us in a much better position than efforts to be the world’s low-cost producer. Once farmers are paid directly for soybean compositional value, they will select varieties based on end-user demands, deliver a premium product, and receive a higher price. This is a goal that we can all get behind.