ARE ALL SOYBEANS THE SAME?
Maybe you think a soybean is a soybean when it comes to compositon. It’s not.
some soybeans have more protein than others. You can’t tell by looking at the seed—you may have to dig into the seed literature or ask your seed dealer to identify the differences— but the contrasts are there.
Some whole soybeans may contain 32% crude protein, for instance, while others can be above 37%. That 5% difference yields an extra 100 pounds of protein in a ton of soybeans! Protein level is important despite the fact that soybeans are called an oilseed. They could as easily be called a protein seed. Whole soybeans are around 34% protein by weight, and 70% of their value is in the soybean meal, the high-protein part used in animal feeds.
That’s why developing soybeans with higher-protein content is capturing the attention of the industry. An initiative of the United Soybean Board (USB) aims to bring awareness and transparency to it.
Two things are driving it, says Mark Seib, a USB director and farmer from Indiana. One is the need to continuously improve our soybeans to compete in global markets. “We need to prove to customers that our soybean composition is still the world standard,” he says. Protein content is important for animal producers in particular, and they’re watching closely.
The other driving force is that some foreign buyers have the per- ception that Brazil’s soybeans are higher quality, Seib adds.
Maintaining the Standard
Chris Schroeder, a consultant to USB on this topic, says perceptions about the protein quality of Brazilian soybeans could be as much marketing hype as reality. Even so, he thinks U.S. soybean farmers need to factor it into future seed choices.
“Right now, the marketplace may not transparently reward you for growing higher-protein soybeans,” he says. “But it’s still worth it because of what buyers are demanding.”
It’s not only Brazilian soybeans that are competing for the animal feed market, adds Schroeder. Distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), canola meal, synthetic amino acids, and other protein sources also can displace U.S. soybean meal.
So far, a USB pilot program has partnered with multiple elevators to measure protein and oil levels in soybeans. Through this program, they documented a 4% to 5% protein variability range at most elevators. For individual farms, the ranges were typically 2% to 3%.
What farmers can do now is talk to their soybean seed dealers about planting higher-protein varieties. “Farmers choose varieties primarily based on yield,” says Schroeder. “Of course, that’s a rational thing to do. It’s what you get paid for.”
But, he adds, as the USB initiative brings transparency to the composition issue, farmers will know their protein levels and factor that into seed decisions, too.
“It won’t be a matter of choosing yield or choosing protein quality,” he says. “You can have both.”
And it will help maintain U.S. soybeans as the world standard for quality.
Participate in this year’s USB-funded crop quality survey to learn about the protein levels of the soybeans you grow. Visit