Soybean meal pushed out of U.S. hog ration market

The problem is blamed on farmers growing the wrong varieties and a system that emphasizes protein over amino acids

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — American farmers are losing billions of dollars by growing the wrong types of soybeans, says a U.S. marketing firm.

“Since 1990, the share of soybean meal in livestock rations in swine has decreased by 70 percent,” said John Osthus, president of Blue Spring Communications.

“Soybean meal is being pushed out of the livestock diet.”

That is largely because farmers are growing the wrong varieties, he told farmers attending a presentation at the 2020 Commodity Classic conference.

Blue Spring Communications was hired by the Illinois Soybean Association to work with seed companies in an effort to persuade farmers to grow varieties that offer better feed value to livestock producers.

The company found that billions of dollars are being lost because of an outdated soybean pricing system focused on placing value on protein content rather than the seven essential amino acids valued by hog producers.

“We really believe that it’s time for a new conversation about soybean value. It has been about protein historically and that’s a bit of a disconnect,” said Osthus.

In 1990, there were 635 pounds of soybean meal in every ton of hog feed, but that volume dropped to 327 lb. by 2016. Pig producers have replaced soybean meal with corn and synthetic amino acids.

The Hanor Family of Companies, which is a major U.S. hog producer, bought 6,222 fewer semi-loads of soybean meal in 2010 than it purchased in 2000.

Instead, the company purchased 6,060 more semi-loads of corn, 46 more of amino acids and 116 more of animal fat.

For U.S. farmers, that has resulted in a loss of US$64 million in soybean sales, partially offset by a gain of $20 million in corn sales.

“There has been a $44 million sales loss with just one of your customers,” said Osthus.

He told growers in the audience that Smithfield is about 10 times the size of Hanor, so it is easy to see how the losses climb into the billions of dollars when all the hog companies in the United States are taken into account.

An analysis of 55,000 soybean samples over seven years has revealed a wide variance in the quality and feed value, depending on what type of variety producers are growing.

The feed value ranged by as much as $64 per ton of meal.

That is why the soybean industry created a new website at to inform growers what the feed value is for hundreds of soybean varieties.

The United Soybean Board also runs a sampling program, which gives growers a report showing the feed value of the soybeans they are growing and the levels of the various amino acids.

Osthus said the top 10 percent of soybeans by quality level reduce hog feed costs by an average of 40 cents per head and increase farmer value by $15.51 per acre based on an average yield of 55 bushels per acre.

“If your variety happens to be scoring low in feed value, just consider replacing it with another variety that has higher feed value,” he said.

“There is literally billions of dollars out there to capture.”

Bart Borg, director of nutrition with Standard Nutrition Services, said there is a misconception that yields are sacrificed when breeders chase protein content. However, recent research shows there is absolutely no relationship between the two attributes.

“This is very positive,” he said.

“This is saying we can achieve both. We can have good yield and we can have quality beans.”

Osthus said a number of seed companies are taking the initiative to advance the production, distribution and farmer adoption of high quality soybean varieties including LG Seeds, AgriGold and Syngenta.

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