U.S. soybean sales are booming to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, according to the latest government export data.

That’s good, industry leaders say, but it can be better. The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) will host the U.S. Soy Trade Exchange — Europe and MENA (Middle East/North Africa) later this month in Barcelona, Spain to boost soy exports to the regions this year and beyond.

USSEC recently initiated the “What it Takes” strategy to grow U.S. soybean demand worldwide and mitigate sales losses to China. The conference, slated for Nov. 29-30, is a key component of the initiative.

About 300 soybean buyers, sellers and industry stakeholders are scheduled to attend the conference. Presentations from top-level government and industry officials and networking roundtables are on tap.

Several state soybean associations provided extra funds for the conference. The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) chipped in $50,000.

“It’s critical to spur sales in markets where the U.S. hasn’t traditionally been the major supplier,” said ISA CEO Kirk Leeds.

Soybean and soybean meal exports are up 243 percent and 105 percent, respectively, to Europe and MENA during the marketing year that started Sept. 1, according to USSEC Regional Director Brent Babb. Egypt, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and other countries have increased purchases of U.S. soy or are relatively new customers.

The conference, Babb said, is geared to keep and increase market share in Europe and MENA. For soybeans last year, U.S. market share was 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

“The short-term goal is to offset some of China’s sales losses by getting more deals done,” Babb said. “Longer term, we want to maximize the value of U.S soy in many markets where it’s becoming the standard.”

As of Nov. 1, export data shows only 35.9 million bushels of U.S. soybeans are booked or have been shipped to China compared to 628 million bushels a year ago. Soybean prices have plummeted about $2 per bushel as a result, costing farmers billions of dollars.

ISA President and Keota farmers Lindsay Greiner plans to attend the Barcelona conference with a message for buyers.

“We’re sitting on a record crop that’s priced to sell,” Greiner said. “Despite isolated quality issues, overall it’s good.

“I’m hoping to hear buyers say they need more of our soybeans,” he added. “I would be disappointed if I don’t.”

National soybean production is pegged at 4.6 billion bushels, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Production Report.

Compared to soybeans from South America fetching a premium due to Chinese demand, U.S. oilseeds are indeed a bargain. Soybeans sourced from the Gulf of Mexico in October averaged $325 per ton, according the USDA. Soybeans from Paranagua in Brazil averaged $414 per ton. Argentina Up River soybeans average $395 per ton.

Quality soybeans at a value price is the primary driver of a big uptick in sales to Europe and MENA, Babb said. Industry experts and farmers will remind buyers about the intrinsic feed value of U.S. soy, mainly its exceptional amino acid content, the nation’s reliable transportation system and sustainable farming practices.

“We not only want to get more business now, but we don’t want customers to forget about us when the soy trading world gets back to normal,” Babb said. “This is a great opportunity for buyers and sellers to meet face-to-face to accomplish both goals.”

Historically, Brazil was a major supplier of soybeans and Argentina dominated the soybean meal trade to Europe and MENA. That is changing.

Babb said U.S. soybean meal exports to the regions during the 2018-19 marketing year total 650,000 metric tons (30.2-million-bushel equivalent) as of Nov. 8, more than double last year’s pace. Soybean sales are more than three times higher at 3.67 million metric tons or nearly 135 million bushels.

The following countries in the 2018-19 marketing year have increased U.S. soybean imports:

  • Egypt: 17.6 million bushels
  • Spain: 17.2 million bushels
  • Netherlands: 9.8 million bushels
  • Italy: 5.6 million bushels
  • Portugal: 5.3 million bushels
  • United Kingdom: 5.1 million bushels
  • Saudi Arabia: 4.8 million bushels
  • Belgium: 3.2 million bushels
  • Romania: 2.2 million bushels

Europe and MENA account for 42 percent of U.S. soy exports so far this year, Babb said.

USSEC anticipates the European Union — the world’s second largest soybean buyer behind China and the largest soybean meal purchaser — will buy more than 10 million metric tons of U.S. soy products this year, up from 7 million last year.

Babb and other industry analysts expect the U.S. will be the main supplier of soybeans to Europe and MENA this year.

“Egypt has more than doubled its crush capacity and other countries are buying more,” Babb said. “We hope to continue building on that, and the conference will help.”