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All soy is not created equal; a new tool looks at its nutritional and economic value for livestock.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

March 18, 2021

4 Min Read
chickens in barn
GOOD EATS: Chickens are one of the top consumers of soybean meal across the world. A study finds that U.S. soy excels in crude protein and energy across the chicken and pork sectors of the livestock industry. Alffoto/Getty Images

When Jim Sutter spends time visiting with buyers about why they should purchase U. S. soy, he needs more than anecdotal stories of how “chickens and pigs can tell the difference.” Buyers want data.

So, the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) gathered a team of nutritionists from around the world to find out: Do soybeans from the U.S. have greater nutritional value for livestock than other suppliers? The answer is yes.

During the 2021 Commodity Classic, Sutter shared how Gonzalo Mateos, a professor at the University of Madrid in Spain, gathered data from more than 1,500 samples of soybean meal from key origins around the world.

“They were studied for many factors,” says Sutter, the USSEC CEO, “crude protein being one of those factors.”

Crude protein is often the key measurement to compare soybeans or soybean meal quality between samples and various countries. However, for a greater understanding of U.S. soy, nutritionists dove deeper and looked at amino acid levels, energy levels and carbohydrate levels — all the things considered part of a nutritional diet important to livestock around the world.

That information all went into a meta-analysis, Sutter explains, which has a lot of value because it was peer reviewed by nutritional experts from around the world. “They all agreed with [Mateos'] contents,” he adds. “And the data shows that the amino acid concentration and the energy levels in U.S. soy are superior to soy from other origins.”

Gathering soy information

USSEC will continue to gather this type of data as it contracts with Evonik, a worldwide nutritional ingredient supplier. They have a database that tracks ingredients, and USSEC is interested in the quality of soybean meal used around the world.

“They use infrared technology to analyze samples and keep updating their information in real time,” Sutter says. “So, we can use that data to be able to show people about U.S. soy relative to soy from other origins.”

Using this data, Maria Mayora, USSEC regional poultry specialist, can see protein content from the U.S. and various countries. Last year, customers told USSEC they noticed a decrease in crude protein content in soybean meal, compared to 2018. So, she used the Evonik database for her analysis.

“We saw, actually, that we were providing 12 more kcals in net energy for growing pigs and sows,” she says. U.S. soybean meal in 2020 offered more sugar and more starch than in 2018. The analysis also showed greater levels of amino acid digestibility when compared to region such as Bolivia.

However, Sutter says the higher nutritional value equates to on-farm cost savings for U.S. soy buyers.

“They want to know the economics of all this,” he explains. “How do you turn [data information] into dollars and cents? What does it mean for someone raising chickens or pigs somewhere around the world who is deciding which type of soybean meal to use?”

Sutter has a tool for that.

Calculating economic value

Genesis Feed Technologies is an animal nutrition company that came up with a value calculator. It does feed formulation, Sutter explains, and feed buyers are able to see in real time the impact to their operation.

“With these very high commodity prices, people are looking for alternative ingredients,” says Matthew Clark, who works with the Soy Nutrient Value Calculator as part of Genesis Feed Technologies. “We say the alternative ingredient is a better soybean meal.”

Most of the soybean meal on the global scene is being fed to monogastric animals — those animals that don’t need crude protein as much as they need amino acids, Clark explains. The calculator looks at that, along with other factors such as sucrose levels.

“Our challenge is to look at the full profile for the soybean meal and take into account every single component and turn those technical details into a profit figure,” Clark says.

He shares how a medium-sized broiler operation in Malaysia feeds 5,000 tons of feed. “We then look at the premium spread analysis, and this is where we show where the values are looking at the bottom line," Clark says. "They've got U.S. soybean meal at $48,930 — that is the cost saving per month, relative to Argentina soybean meal supply. That's big money for a roughly 5,000-ton business.”

Clark says the calculator provides a “real number” buyers can look at when trying to decide if U.S. soy offers a real value in terms of nutrients and economics.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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