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Corn+Soybean Digest

Low Protein Loses Markets

Soybean producers north of I-80 (Des Moines, IA) may want to re-evaluate just how they are selecting varieties. Basing buying decisions on yield only may have already cost them 9¢/bu — and overseas markets, says Seth Naeve, University of Minnesota (U of M) extension soybean agronomist.

“The lower-protein beans being produced in Minnesota cost producers there about 9¢/bu, on average. It's an invisible dockage or price difference,” Naeve says.

“Meal produced from low-protein soybeans is less valuable in the marketplace, so people are paying less. Japan currently isn't buying any soybeans grown north of Des Moines,” he adds.

Who's to blame?

“You and I are the problem,” says David Durham, United Soybean Board (USB) chairman, “and you and I are a big part of the solution.”

Durham and USB are urging growers to buy soybean seed based not only on yield, but also on protein and oil content. That's something Naeve and the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council have been pushing state producers to do for years.

Checkoff-supported research at Iowa State shows that soybeans grown in Upper Midwestern states are, on average, 2 percentage points lower than 36%-protein beans grown in the South, where warm soils and a long growing season promote higher-protein seed (see map).

U.S. soybean production is shifting, too. More beans are grown in moderate- or low-protein regions. From 1970 to 2002, soybean production shifted from 9% to 25% in low-protein areas. In moderate-protein states, production moved from 54% to 48% and in high-protein-producing Southern states, from 35% to 25%.

The result?

“U.S. soybeans are priced in international markets at the lowest expectations,” Durham says.

The solution, say Durham and Naeve, is for growers to select seed for yield and for protein and oil content. Growers should also tell seed dealers and breeders they want more high-protein, high-yielding varieties, Durham says.

The payback could be premiums for beans with higher protein and oil content. Two Midwestern processing plants, in fact, are paying premiums to growers who provide high enough protein and oil content. They are AGP, Dawson, MN, and South Dakota Soybean Processors, Volga, SD.

“We're looking for a win-win scenario,” says Tom Kersting, South Dakota Soybean Processors' commercial manager. “The more pounds of oil and the more protein we have to sell, the better it is for us. If we can influence producers to select seed with higher protein and oil content, we'll share some of those yield gains with growers.”

After a pilot program last year, where growers earned an average 2¢/bu, the South Dakota processor upped the premium scale. Growers can earn up to 7¢/bu on oil and another 7¢ on protein.

Growers looking for high-yielding, high-protein varieties should do what Naeve has done for Minnesota growers. He looked at U of M variety trial data, picked the 20% of varieties based on yield, then published a list of those varieties with above-average protein as “winners” (visit A “losers” list identifies varieties with extreme low protein content.

“I just want them to choose the best-yielding varieties they can for their farms and then, among those best varieties, look for good protein varieties,” Naeve says.

Durham hopes, with farmer cooperation, that processors will provide higher prices for a better-quality product. And that seed companies will see that high-yielding, high-protein varieties are marketable and in demand.

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