Chinese seek higher levels of oil, protein in soybean imports

Lisa Lunz and her husband, Jim, of Wakefield have always considered yield one of their top soybean production goals.

But after returning from a 2010 trade mission to China to promote Nebraska soybeans, Lisa, who is in her second year as chairwoman of the Nebraska Soybean Board, began thinking more of protein and oil content.

“When we were in China, that was all that we heard,” she says. “For the Chinese, that is what is important.”

With more than 1.3 billion people in China who are demanding more protein in their diets, the need for soybean oil and meal is increasing rapidly. The trade mission was led by international marketing consultant Peter Mishek and regional agents of AGP, a federated soybean processing and marketing cooperative.

It also included Lunz and Duane Lee from NSB; Nebraska soybean producers Ken Boswell, Greg Janak, Dennis Fujan and Robert Johnston; and Farm Bureau, University of Nebraska and Nebraska Department of Agriculture representatives.

At a glance

China imports 65% of U.S. soybean production.

Chinese buyers want higher oil and protein content from U.S. soybeans.

United Soybean Board benchmarks are 19% oil and 35% protein.

Pioneer supply chain coordinator Jeff Horst was also on that trip. “The China trade mission was very interesting,” Horst says. “I don’t think the average farmer and consumer realize the amount of soybeans that are imported by China and Southeast Asia.”

Horst says, “China raises 25 million acres of soybeans,” but farmers there are moving away from soybean acres in favor of more corn and rice due to higher revenue. So they want to buy protein.

About 65% of U.S. soybean exports go to China, with 70% shipping from the Gulf of Mexico and 30% from the Pacific Northwest. There are between 70 and 90 ships headed to China on the ocean at any point in time, hauling 2.2 million bushels each. “That is a lot of soybeans,” Horst says. Not all of those soybeans are coming from the U.S., but that fact illustrates how important Chinese soybean customers are to U.S. producers.

“Producing soybeans with higher levels of oil and protein is not high on the Nebraska farmer’s list of concerns right now because they are paid on the bushels they produce, not oil and protein,” says Horst. “We can produce soybean seed with higher oil and protein content, but in our typical growing environment, it usually comes at the expense of overall yield potential.”

He says, “We’re constantly working on it. The last thing Nebraska farmers want is to produce a crop where they receive less yield and revenue.” 

But Chinese customers “assess everything from oil and protein,” Horst says. “Nebraska soybeans are shipped from the Pacific Northwest, which takes half the time to get to China, and if you can come in with good quality and higher oil and protein, there will be a much higher demand for Nebraska soybeans.”

“Our Chinese customers want to process the whole bean there,” says Victor Bohuslavsky, executive director of NSB. “They want to extrude the oil for human consumption and process meal for protein for livestock feed.”

Soybean samples

In recent years, NSB has worked with FFA chapters around the state to collect soybean samples from farmers at harvest. The stated national benchmark promoted by the United Soybean Board has been 19% oil content and 35% protein content.

“We’re getting closer,” says Bohuslavsky. “A lot of it has to do with climate.” Typically, farmers in Southern states find it easier to meet oil and protein goals. But the range of oil and protein in Nebraska samples has tightened, he says. Nationally and in Nebraska, samples tested in 2010 were virtually unchanged from 2009.

On the Lunz farm, soybean samples from 2010 were very close to USB goals. One sample was 18.6% oil and 33.8% protein, while a second sample was 19% oil and 34.8% protein.

“The Chinese are huge customers,” Lunz says. “So we need to produce what our customers want.”

If you’d like to learn more about improving oil and protein content in your soybean production, call Bohuslavsky at NSB at 402-441-3240, or email

Choosing the right bean varieties

Farmers have the ability to improve overall soybean quality coming out of the Upper Midwest. The United Soybean Board says that farmers need to ask their seed dealers about specific protein and oil content of high-yielding soybean varieties. They can also take advantage of premium programs offered by many soybean processors in the region.

USB provides a unique online variety selection tool at www.soyquality.
. This website, compiled through university seed trial data, provides localized information to help producers select soybean varieties for their region that are high-yielding and consistently produce high oil and protein content.

Farmers are encouraged to test their production each fall. Having that knowledge allows farmers to make variety selection decisions in moving toward higher oil and protein over time.


raising oil: Nebraska Soybean Board Chairwoman Lisa Lunz and her husband, Jim, of Wakefield are working along with other Upper Midwest farmers at raising the oil and protein content of the U.S. soybean harvest.

This article published in the May, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.