Consider livestock feed value when selecting soybean varieties

dougBy Doug Schroeder, Chairman, Illinois Soybean Association Board of Directors

On a recent Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) trade mission I sat down with a soybean buyer in Bangkok, Thailand, anticipating a friendly and productive meeting. The buyer looked at me, and the first words out of her mouth were: “Why is the quality of your soybeans so low?”

As soybean producers we have heard this question before, especially throughout southeast Asia in China, Taiwan and the Philippines. These Pacific Rim countries have an insatiable appetite for U.S. soybeans, but we must address their concerns about quality. A whopping 60 percent of soybeans produced in Illinois are exported.

Quality is dictated by amino acid profiles that are most sought after by livestock producers to drive animal growth, productivity and profitability. These amino acids—not protein or oil—determine livestock feed value.

When our soybeans don’t meet the needs of international customers and their own livestock industries, these buyers go elsewhere in search of amino acid sources. Soybean inclusion rates in swine rations, for example, have dropped 70 percent since 1990, largely replaced by synthetic amino acids and corn byproducts. On a global scale, there are billions of dollars in soybean revenue at stake.

ISA has worked hard to create awareness of this challenge among state soybean producers and seed companies through the checkoff-funded High Yield PLUS Quality (HY+Q) program. Even more importantly, they have a solution: farmers can reverse this decline in quality by planting more soybean varieties that feature high livestock feed value.

ISA has made this achievable by analyzing more than 50,000 soybean samples, building a database of many of the most popular soybean varieties available today, and ranking them for livestock feed value. This database cuts across national and regional seed company portfolios and can be accessed at www.soyvalue.com.

This type of information hasn’t been available to farmers until recently, and it bodes well that several major seed companies are getting involved in the HY+Q program. Some seed guides and catalogs now clearly identify soybean varieties that have high livestock feed value. These companies are making quality a component in the seed-selection process.

We need more seed companies to incorporate quality traits into their breeding and marketing efforts. All seed companies should identify their varieties that feature better-than-average livestock feed value and encourage their customers to plant them. There is nothing to be gained from advancing genetic lines that do not meet the criteria for higher value from the livestock producer perspective.

At the same time, producers need to plant more high-value soybean varieties. When making seed-selection decisions, if you are looking at two soybean varieties that are roughly equivalent in yield potential and desired agronomic and biotech traits, choose the variety that offers the highest livestock feed value. Knowing the end value of soybean varieties is something that should sway producers where selection and planting of varieties are concerned.

The bottom line is that soybean quality has a direct, corresponding effect on demand and therefore on commodity prices. The lost feed market share means lost revenue for farmers. One of the best ways that we can reverse these losses, recapture market share and increase demand for the soybeans we grow is to take feed quality into account when selecting varieties.

Changing how we think about and gauge the worth of soybean varieties will not be an easy transition. However, higher soybean quality is the best medicine to help the industry achieve long-term health.

To learn more, visit www.soyvalue.com.