Just three years ago, the United Soybean Board launched the Select Yield & Quality Initiative to better meet consumer quality demands with 19% oil and 35% protein without a yield lag. A new survey finds the Western Corn Belt region had an average protein content of 34.4% and an average oil level of 19.4%.
Geographically the Upper Midwest tends to produce lower protein and oil levels compared to southern states and South America. The region, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, harvests over 50% of U.S. soybean production.
Vanessa Kummer, USB director and a soybean farmer from Colfax, N.D, says any dips in protein and oil could pull down the overall U.S. average. "With the national average protein content already at 34.92%, that would impact all U.S. soybean producers."
This year's soybean crop of more than 3 billion bushels shows an increase in oil levels of 0.8% and a decline in protein content of half a percent compared to 2004. Samples ranged from 28.9% to 41.7% protein content and oil levels of 14.6% to 22%.
Asian buyers look for higher protein and oil level soybeans for their processing needs. "We can meet Chinese demands for oil and protein, and informed seed selection is the way to do it," says Kummer. "We have to be thinking as farmers about the very real possibility of our major customers turning to other suppliers if we can't get our protein levels up."
Asian exports represent more than 50% of U.S soybean exports with China as the single largest export customer. Twenty-nine percent of export volume to China is shipped from the Pacific Northwest. A large portion of PNW exported soybeans are Western Corn Belt-grown. The soybean checkoff is working to improve the protein and oil levels of soybeans in this region to meet the demands of overseas buyers. Lower protein levels could greatly impact the ability to compete with other soybean-producing countries.
High-yielding, high-oil-and-protein soybean varieties are available, and farmers are encouraged to ask their seed dealers for them. Worldsbestbeans.com provides access to additional information on seed selection, including the checkoff-developed Variety Selector program, which can be downloaded or ordered for free.