Nutrition

What Is Nutrient Density and Why Is It Important?

U.S. Soy Works to Find Added Value Inside the Bean

Animal nutrition is a precise science that allows for the most efficient and cost-effective way to grow an animal. This science is continuously developing and finding what makes the most nutritious product can be difficult. All soybean meal is comprised of protein, fiber, soluble carbohydrates and minerals that animals need to grow. But not all soybeans have the same levels of these ingredients in them. The percentage of protein found in soybeans can vary depending on many factors including where the beans are grown and when they are harvested.

For several years, the global conversation has focused on crude protein levels in an individual soybean hitting the ideal 35 percent. This is because if a bean has 35 percent protein at 19 percent oil and 13 percent moisture, it would be classified as a 47.5 percent high-protein soybean meal according to the Chicago Board of Trade. However, new programs from U.S. soybean groups show focusing on crude protein generally is just scratching the surface of soybean composition and quality potential. The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), state soybean boards and researchers are digging deeper into soybean biology, further analyzing protein. And they’ve found that amino acids—the building blocks of protein—provide a better picture of soybean’s nutrient density.

The Nutrient Bundle

Realizing the value of soybean’s nutrient density means knowing the levels of the essential amino acids found in soy protein. This is what animal nutritionists analyze when looking for quality soybean meal.

“The message of hitting the ideal 35 percent protein/19 percent oil levels is simple, but only tells part of the story,” says Shawn Conley, a state soybean extension specialist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The rest of the story is that U.S. soy offers an excellent amino acid balance within the protein.” Conley works with groups like the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), USSEC and animal nutritionists examining the composition of soybeans and how their amino acids profile benefits soybean producers by adding value to their product and provides information to the industry. 

According to a recent USSEC report, soybeans from the U.S. are nutrient dense because they have the ideal combination of digestible essential amino acid levels and nutritional energy levels. Nutritionists are looking for this optimal composition to feed animals in the most efficient way. 

What Makes Amino Acids So Important?

Understanding the value of amino acids as it relates to soybean quality is essential when creating feed rations. Conley says the best way to utilize U.S. Soy’s nutrient density is to customize rations with amino acids in mind, creating product specific for animals at certain growing stages. For example, if a farmer is feeding nursery pigs, the nutritionist can formulate meal to meet the nutritional requirements of that specific age and species rather than a generic meal that doesn’t precisely match the animal.

“Just like humans have different food requirements at different ages, so do animals,” Conley states. “Utilizing the distinctive amino acids in soybeans to customize feed levels is much more efficient and can put an actual dollar value on meal.”

John Osthus, Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) program lead for the High Yield PLUS Quality (HY+Q) program, shares that amino acids are vitally important to maximizing soybean market share and value. Naturally high levels of amino acids that cannot be recreated by synthetics are especially valuable. 

The team at ISA works with Illinois farmers to educate them on the importance of knowing the amino acid in their soybeans. “The individual amino acids in feed are what drive the worth, and soybean varieties with high levels of isoleucine and valine can protect U.S. market share and increase value,” says Osthus.

The ISA HY+Q team recently launched www.soyvalue.com that presents data and information to farmers about their soybeans. The HY+Q team takes soybean samples from farmers across Illinois and turns results into actionable information for soybean producers in the form of a customized report. The reports show the oil and protein levels of the sample, and the value of their soybeans in swine and poultry feed using livestock ration formula software, which is a program that animal nutritionists often use. This beneficial tool gives growers actual data about their own operations and comparison information to look to when making variety selection decisions. 

Where Do We Go from Here?

Conley recommends farmers seek soybean varieties with not only high yield potential, but with higher-yielding, higher-protein varieties with better amino acid levels.  For buyers, he suggests researching nutrient density and understanding the hidden value of working with the precision amino acids provide. With this information, farmers can better understand what their beans can offer and can look for varieties to better meet nutritional needs of animals.

“It is important to understand the value of the underlying amino acids for their specific production economic benefits, especially for different geographic areas,” says Conley. “The demand for animal protein is increasing, and we can meet the demand by feeding a better and more complete soybean. The U.S. soy industry has the competitive advantage here; right now the United States is the only place focused on this.”

To learn more about essential amino acids in soybeans, click here.

Jayne Godfrey
Jayne Godfrey

Ag Communicator

Jayne is a public relations professional with a focus on food and agriculture, spanning the crop and livestock industries.