As we move into harvest, Illinois soybean farmers will have one thing on their minds: Yield.
But our customers don’t care how many bushels of beans we grow; they care about how much protein and oil those beans contain. And we should begin to think about our beans the same way our customers do.
Whether they’re used here in Illinois, somewhere else in the United States or another country, our soybeans are used for the same things. The meal goes into feed for poultry, hogs and other livestock. And most of the oil gets used to make food. If you look at the trends in the global marketplace, you’ll see that our customers are buying components of our soy: Meal and oil.
About 54 percent of the soybeans grown in Illinois are exported, and most of those beans are processed to make animal feed. While our total export volume has increased, U.S. soybean farmers’ share of the global soybean export market has shrunk, and our declining protein and oil levels could be to blame.
According to the Illinois Soybean Association, yields have increased over the last 10 years, but protein and oil levels have declined throughout Illinois. On the other hand, Brazilian soybeans continue to show consistently higher protein and oil levels, making them potentially more competitive in international markets.
Most of the Illinois soybeans that are not shipped to foreign markets are used to make animal feed within the United States. And if our domestic customers demand better oil and meal, we should grow varieties that produce better meal and oil.
We don’t have to choose between good yields and better components, and asking your seed dealer for varieties that will produce higher levels of protein and oil will help keep U.S. soy competitive and protect our bottom lines.
We have an abundance of opportunity in Illinois. We have fertile fields and easy access to major transportation hubs. If we put more emphasis on the component values of our soybeans, we will help keep our industry strong.
Sharon Covert is the USB secretary and a soybean farmer from Tiskilwa.