Value of U.S. Soybeans: The Proof Is in the Nutrients

A white barn with grain silos is visible behind a field of soy plants.

With input prices still rising, farmers are stretching every dollar they spend. Their checkoff, though, is looking to add to the dollars they’ll make, showing buyers they have to look at more than soy’s price tag.

U.S. Soybean Export Council’s latest digital tool reveals the benefits of purchasing U.S. soybean meal on quality over price. For decades, the companies buying soybean meal focused on crude protein, price and availability. With support from your checkoff, including state organizations, USSEC is changing the conversation.

In 2020, USSEC released a Nutrient Value Calculator (NVC), which allows international feed buyers and nutritionists to assess the value of U.S. soybean meal compared to meal of other origins.

To show buyers an accurate view of U.S. soybean meal’s value, the calculator accounts for essential components for feed quality and efficiency, such as amino acids and energy value. USSEC’s staff around the world introduce key customers to the tool, partnering with them to input the customer’s specific data, diet requirements and goals to provide a more accurate assessment of U.S. soybean meal value.

To create value for U.S. soybean farmers, the checkoff works together with industry partners like USSEC to define and promote the unique value and versatility of U.S. soybeans and soy products through both traditional avenues and new opportunities.

“U.S. soybean meal might cost more upfront than those of Brazil and Argentina, but the calculator proves ours has better quality parameters. And that higher quality can achieve customer goals more efficiently, with less cost,” says Doug Winter, a checkoff farmer-leader from Illinois who serves as chairman of USSEC’s board of directors.

When the value added by U.S. soybeans is made clear to customers, their decisions and their demand are simple.

Decisions made simple

A study completed in 2020 found that meal from different countries of origin should be treated individually when formulating swine and poultry diets.

Using the NVC, developed by Genesis Feed Technologies in partnership with the soy checkoff, the economic value of U.S. soybean meal can be evaluated by using formulas representative of the regional feed manufacturers. Nutrient values and prices of all the other components of the diet are also used in the tool’s calculations. The NVC indicates that U.S. soybean meal contributes to cost reduction in broiler diets.

“Ultimately, we can prove that U.S. soybean meal has better internal quality parameters,” says Karey Claghorn, the senior director of market development for USSEC. “The energy content and digestible amino acids, especially critical ones like lysine specifically, are a huge topic right now because there’s a shortage of synthetics in the market.”

The study showed that the average U.S. soybean seed composition is 34% protein, including essential and nonessential amino acids, 21% insoluble carbohydrates, 19% oil, 9% soluble carbohydrates, 4% ash (minerals) and 13% moisture.

It’s clear that U.S.-grown soybean meal provides the numbers nutritionists need, but it also comes with so much more, such as a readily available supply and a dependable infrastructure system to get our product where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

“Soybean farmers take pride in growing a high-quality, sustainable crop each year and being a reliable supplier for the world,” says Winter.

Moving the needle on preference

USSEC has already seen positive results from using the NVC with customers. Claghorn says they are currently using the NVC in Southeast Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Soybean meal is an essential source of protein for the global feed industry, where it is used in swine, bovine, poultry and aquaculture diets. Claghorn says the USSEC team is deploying the tool for poultry, swine and some dairy rations right now. The NVC tool could also be used to demonstrate the future value of U.S. soybeans in the world aquaculture industry.

“We would like to get there in aquaculture,” Claghorn says. “We’re still having the conversation about replacing fishmeal with soybean meal as a more sustainable protein source. Then we can talk about market share and value.”

Proving quality can improve the bottom line

U.S. farmers take pride in growing high-quality crops each year while being a reliable supplier for the world. Dawn Scheier, a farmer from South Dakota who also serves on the USSEC board, has participated in several trade missions that highlight U.S. soybeans to international buyers, even hosting trade missions with international buyers on her farm. She is excited that an effective tool like the NVC is helping show the value of soybeans grown on her farm.

After all, that’s the mission of the checkoff — to create value for U.S. soybean farmers like Dawn and Doug.

“We know buyers are often looking one direction and nutritionists are looking the other,” Scheier says of buying habits in international markets. “Producers have to be as efficient as possible when it comes to average daily gain and feed conversion to get their animals to market. It needs to be the most economical way. The NVC shows people that all soybeans are not created equal.”

She hopes the tool will impact the way soy is purchased moving forward.

“By sharing this with people, it is creating a culture shift through the value chain,” she says. “We need to have buyers looking at different ingredients instead of just protein. We need to bridge the gap between buyers and the nutritionists, and the NVC is a way for us to do that.”

And farmers have put their faith and their investments in the checkoff to make that happen.

“The soy checkoff funded portions of this tool,” Claghorn says. “Work that we’re doing in the field with boots on the ground supports those direct customer interface actions. So, every day, everything is integrated with the checkoff.”

She says the NVC is one of many tools in USSEC’s arsenal. USSEC officials access a full toolbox to demonstrate why U.S. soybean meal should be used in feed operations. Other tools help demonstrate topics of interest from the reliability of U.S. supply chains to sustainability.

“You want to zone in on one thing at a time with the customer to move the needle,” Claghorn says. “This helps us to break it down. It’s a cultural shift in how people purchase and look at input buying.”

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