U.S. soybean farmers are heavily dependent on demand from international purchasers. Although global supplies are currently relatively tight, buyers do have a choice of origin for soybeans and soybean products. Providing marketing support for buyers helps U.S. farmers maintain export partners and expand relationships with new customers.
Therefore, soybean farmers have supported a survey of the quality of the U.S. crop since 1986. This annual quality report provides a measure of the overall value of the U.S. crop relative to previous years and identifies regional variation so that purchasers may target locations to source soybeans and soybean products that best fit their needs.
In 2013, the average U.S. soybean contained 34.7 percent protein and 19.0 percent oil. Overall, these values were higher than in 2012. Oil increased by 0.4 percentage points and protein by 0.5. Relative to the long-term averages, oil was slightly higher (by 0.3 points) and protein slightly lower (by 0.5 points) in 2013.
In most years, there is a strong gradient in protein concentration from highest in the southeast to lowest in the northwest portions of the soybean production area. This gradient was not pronounced in 2013. In fact, the traditionally low-protein states of Minnesota and North and South Dakota produced protein levels nearly equal to the national average. Increased protein in these states is responsible for much of the protein improvement noted at the national level. Because these Western states (including Nebraska) provide most of the soybeans for export from ports in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), Asian purchasers buying soybeans and meal from the PNW should see a large improvement in protein levels over 2012.
Wet weather through June and dry weather during August and September did not appear to affect soybean quality as much as expected, and certainly less than it affected overall yields in the Midwest. The only exception to this may be in areas where soybean planting was drastically delayed. In those areas, it appears that oil levels suffered due to the very late maturation of the crop.
To gather these findings, my team and I evaluated the samples for protein, oil, amino acid and soluble sugar concentration on a 13 percent moisture basis. In August, 8,325 U.S. soybean farmers received sample kits, and by early November, 1,627 of them had returned samples of their soybeans for analysis.
Although the 2013 crop may have been smaller than many had hoped, domestic and international purchasers should be happy with the quality of the new crop soybeans.
Seth Naeve, Ph.D., is a soybean researcher at the University of Minnesota