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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
US Soy Quality Initiative to Improve International Competitiveness

Figure 1. Soybeans being analyzed by NIR (near-infrared reflectance)

By Jill Miller-Garvin and Seth Naeve, University of Minnesota

As a commodity, soybean has a highly variable composition, and its chemical makeup directly affects the quality of products produced from it, which in turn drives the price buyers are willing to pay. Understanding how soybean composition is affected by genetics, environment, and management practices allows some control over the chemical composition. Benchmarking soybean composition and changes across producers, states, regions, and so on allows the industry to determine whether soybean quality is improving, holding steady, or declining over time. An assessment of soybean quality directly after harvest and before the import season allows purchasers to make decisions that are more informed. The primary aim of this $402,000 project is to evaluate the composition of US soybeans directly from the farmer, in order to provide new crop quality data to aid international purchasers. 

Through the 34-year history of this project, the average protein concentration of US produced soybean has declined at a rate of 0.04 % per year. This represents a real decrease from about 35.8% protein in 1986 to about 34.4% in recent years. Oil has increased in turn, but at only at half the rate. This is one of the biggest challenges facing US producers today. 

There are secondary constituents that help buffer the economic impact of reduced protein level. For instance, lower protein soybeans are enriched in the most important amino acids for animal growth. This means that lower
protein soybeans have a greater value than simply protein concentration might indicate. In addition, some of the decrease in protein may be offset by increased sucrose. While sucrose may not have the same value to a monogastric animal as protein, it does provide value to the end-user. 

Each October, samples to be analyzed project are received from farmers, tested for protein, key amino acids, and oil content by NIR. Both written and PowerPoint reports are generated. These reports capture the quality of the new crop and compare the results to previous years. The reports are presented and distributed at Soybean Outlook conferences organized by USSEC in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China in mid-November. Primary purchasers, processors, manufacturers, feed-millers, and end-users participate in these conferences to learn about the quality of the new
crop in the US. A final report is generated in December after
all samples have been received. This report is circulated throughout the global soybean community including producers, trade professionals, media, and academia (the full report is available on request; summary of the
report can be found at this link: https://www.soymeal.org/soy-meal-articles/u-s-soybean-quality-report-2019/). 

This project is important to US soybean producers. It provides an educational service with far-reaching impact, strengthening communication about US soybean quality to both domestic and international partners. In addition, it provides technical assistance to the US soy community (including producers, academics, and industry) about changes in quality resulting from the environment, management, and variety choice, enabling future changes targeted to improve quality. Finally, it provides thousands of US producers with soybean quality results contextualized within state, region, US, and historical values, and, perhaps most importantly, that comprehensive soybean quality data helps to improve the perception of the quality of US soybeans that will help grow demand and preference for US soybeans.