By MATTHEW D. ERNST
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Once new members of the United Soybean Board were installed at its annual business meeting Dec. 6, 2012, the board tested its electronic voting system. The test vote asked board members how their farm’s average soybean yields last year compared to 2011: higher, the same or lower?
Vanessa Kummer, the outgoing USB chair, was among those visibly surprised that, by far, the highest percentage of board members reported higher yields. “Maybe that’s why the (national) average was up,” she mused aloud to the group.
According to the USDA’s latest yield forecast, the national average soybean yield this season is 39.3 bushels per acre. Although still lower than 2011 yields (41.9 bushels per acre), this estimate is 10.2 percent above September’s USDA forecast.
While a significant portion of soybean acres are in the drought-affected Midwest and Plains, many Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states project record yields. These include Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Better yields are widely acknowledged as the result of variety improvements, and the USB stated soybean checkoff funds have long funded variety improvements by university and government researchers. At this year’s meeting, in fact, it announced a partnership with Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer to accelerate development of new high-oleic oil soybean varieties beyond the initial focus area of Indiana and Ohio.
“We have an opportunity to expand the acreage for high-oleic soybeans and strengthen U.S. soy’s competitive position in the food and industrial sectors,” said Kummer.
Representatives from the seed companies indicated that a priority for the high-oleic varieties is to ensure the best agronomic and production traits in the new high-oleic beans. Higher yielding beans and recapturing oil market share lost to high-oleic canola oil is also essential to supplying the soybean industry’s top consumer: U.S. animal agriculture.
One USB board member, also a hog farmer, told the group recapturing oil market share from developing high-oleic varieties is only good for animal agriculture. When there is a greater quantity demanded of soy oil, the price of soy meal will generally decline.
A USB-funded study, released in late October, affirmed animal agriculture as the No. 1 customer of U.S. soybeans. In 2011, the study estimated, poultry and livestock farmers used the meal from 1.27 billion bushels of soybeans. Slightly more than 3 billion bushels of soybeans were harvested in 2011.
Increasing and regaining soy oil market share can help push down the price of soybean meal for animal agriculture.
“We need to be sensitive to the issues facing poultry and livestock farmers and make sure that we are providing high-quality soy meal,” said Lewis Bainbridge, chair of the USB Domestic Marketing Program.
Soybean yields are also crucial to supplying international demand for U.S. beans. “The checkoff continues to assure (international customers) that while we may not have as many bushels per acre, we are a reliable supplier of high-quality soybeans,” said Sharon Covert, a soybean farmer from Tiskilwa, Ill., and USB International Marketing chair.
The role of soybean exports was recently applauded by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack: “Demand for products like American soybeans, wheat and tree nuts is surging across the world, with notable gains in China, Europe and Southeast Asia expected to support strong cash receipts through the year.”