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Soybean journey just beginning at the elevator

• Nearly half of the U.S. soybean crop stays in the U.S., but the remainder heads beyond the borders to customers as varied as the nations that cover the globe: pork producers in China, families in India and Japan, school children in Mexico, goat and sheep farmers in Morocco and poultry farmers in Turkey, not to mention fish farmers in Egypt and shrimpers in Ecuador.

Many soybean growers view their customer as the local elevator where they drop off their crop at harvest.

In reality, however, when a soybean gets dropped off at the elevator, its journey is just beginning.

Nearly half of the U.S. soybean crop stays in the U.S., but the remainder heads beyond the borders to customers as varied as the nations that cover the globe: pork producers in China, families in India and Japan, school children in Mexico, goat and sheep farmers in Morocco and poultry farmers in Turkey, not to mention fish farmers in Egypt and shrimpers in Ecuador.

And those are just a few.

Just like U.S. soy’s domestic patrons, international soy users raise animals, manufacture industrial products and bake and fry all kinds of food. And no matter what they’re raising, making or cooking, these customers need high-quality soybean meal and oil, and many need it to be grown in a sustainable way.


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Let’s follow the flow of U.S. soy to these representative destinations and see just how far America’s soybean crop travels beyond the elevator.


Whether it’s twice-cooked or barbecued, more and more pork is landing on plates across China. And as the country’s meat consumption continues to grow, so likely will its demand for U.S. soy.

The Chinese government’s recent efforts to make hog operations more efficient have helped pork production grow by nearly 15 million metric tons between 2000 and 2012, a 40 percent increase. Pork is now China’s No. 1 meat, and represents two-thirds of the meat processed in the country.

Big demand for soybean meal

This boom means Chinese hog farmers need plenty of soybean meal to feed their animals. China is already U.S. soy’s largest international destination, importing 849 million bushels of whole U.S. soybeans in the last marketing year — far more than any other country in the world. China’s demand for soy is expected to grow over the next marketing year.


When the lunch bell rings in Mexico, hungry children line up for healthy meals, many of which were brought to them from the beans grown in your fields.

For years, Mexican school-feeding programs have used U.S. soy to enrich tortillas with much-needed protein for underprivileged kids. These programs assist more than 6 million children per day in Mexico, and many more in other Latin American countries like Columbia and Peru.

Soy-enriched meals along with a robust animal-ag sector help make Mexico the biggest international buyer of U.S. soy meal and the second-largest importer of whole U.S. soybeans. Last year, the country bought a whopping 3.3 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans, or about 122 million bushels.


In the United States, you can find hamburger joints on every street corner, but in many parts of the world, goat meat is the protein of choice. Morocco is no exception, and many of its 32 million citizens dine on goat stew or sausage.

The country just south of Spain in northwest Africa is home to 17 million sheep and goats, which are used for meat and milk. These animals, along with Morocco’s poultry and cattle, have been feeding on U.S. soybean meal for more than 15 years.

Has become big soybean market

Through checkoff efforts, more and more U.S. soybean meal has been included in animal feed in Morocco, and in the most recent marketing year, the African country imported 490,000 bushels of whole U.S. soybeans, a nearly 400 percent increase in four years.


Tilapia has leapt from the hieroglyphics on pyramid walls into 21st-century aquaculture facilities in Egypt. The country is now the world’s second-largest producer of tilapia and the leading aquaculture-producing nation in the Middle East.

Feeding demonstrations have shown tilapia respond well when fish meal is replaced with soybean meal as a protein source, and the use of U.S. soybean meal as an ingredient in fish feed has helped make Egypt the fifth-largest importer of whole U.S. soybeans.

The country imported 43 million bushels in the 2011-2012 marketing year. Global demand for aquafeeds is projected to grow, but unrest in Egypt could hinder the aquaculture industry.


Soy for breakfast? In Japan, natto, a dish made from fermented soybeans, can be found on tables in the early morning hours as people prepare for work and school. Natto is a traditional Japanese food that has a pungent taste, distinctive odor and interesting texture that make it both loved and feared across the country.

To help promote U.S. soy in the natto industry, the soy family established an award that’s handed out at Japan’s annual National Natto Competition, which aims to find the best natto from across the country. This effort has helped U.S. soybeans become the ingredient of choice in the traditional dish.

Last year, U.S. soy accounted for 80 percent of Japanese natto consumption, which reached 125,000 metric tons.


Fish aren’t the only aquatic life developing a taste for U.S. soy — shrimp devour it as well. And the shrimp cocktail you enjoyed at your summer pool parties might just have come from the largest shrimp producer in the Western Hemisphere, Ecuador.

The Latin American country harvests more than 240,000 metric tons of shrimp annually and utilizes about 400,000 metric tons of feed.

Holds even more potential

The checkoff has worked with Ecuadorian shrimp producers to improve soy-based feed for the crustaceans, and with the developing relationship, the country has the potential to use 160,000 metric tons of U.S. soybean meal a year.

European Union

Pigs say oui to U.S. soybean meal in the European Union (EU), where poultry and livestock farmers use the product as a protein source for animals of all shapes and sizes. In the last year, member countries imported 3.04 million metric tons or 110 million bushels of U.S. soy, an increase from previous years.

The EU could import even more U.S. soy. Checkoff farmer- leaders have made improving biotech acceptance a priority in the region and have joined with their counterparts from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to form the International Soy Growers Alliance (ISGA). This group, which represents 90 percent of the soybeans grown across the globe, regularly meets with European officials to help increase market access.

Thanks to checkoff efforts coupled with a smaller than expected South American harvest, whole U.S. soybean exports to the EU have grown 179 percent in the last year.


Turkey’s animal agriculture is growing, growing, growing, like many other countries. Agricultural products account for 14 percent of Turkey’s total exports, including 1.6 million tons of broiler meat, and the country imports U.S. soy to use as feedstock for its 800 million broilers.

In the last marketing year, Turkey imported about 22 million bushels of whole U.S. soybeans. If soybean meal is counted as well, the figure reaches 32.8-million-bushel equivalents.

Turkey, which is nestled between Europe and Asia, also serves as a shipping point for U.S. soy products to markets in the region that the American soy industry doesn’t have the infrastructure to reach, including many parts of the former Soviet Union.

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