Low protein lowers price

Buyers of western Canadian soybeans are worried about protein.

A few customers have expressed concerns about beans from Manitoba and Saskatchewan because protein levels in shipments have been below standard.

Francois Labelle, executive director of the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers Association, said the protein issue has come up at industry meetings this winter.

“It’s just starting to be talked about,” he said from his office in Carman, Man.

“Some of the buyers overseas have commented on (protein).”

Soybeans grown in Manitoba typically have protein levels of 32 to 34 percent, compared to 35 to 36 percent for beans in the U.S. Midwest, said Dale Hyde of Delmar Commodities, which buys grains and oilseeds and operates a soy crushing plant near Roland, Man.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan soybeans have less protein be-cause of cooler weather and the varieties of beans grown on the Prairies.

“It’s just a reality that shorter-days-to-maturity soybeans will produce lower protein levels,” Hyde said.

“As you reduce the days to maturing on a soybean, you will have protein drag go along with that…. What is (the) protein drag? I would say it’s two percent.”

Two percent doesn’t sound like much, but crushing plants need beans with a minimum amount of protein. Otherwise, they can’t make soybean meal that satisfies a feed standard.

When Manitoba only had 500,000 acres of soybeans, the lower protein soy could be blended with other beans.

However, the lower protein levels are more noticeable now that acreage is approaching two million in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Labelle said Manitoba isn’t the only soy-growing region with this challenge.

“I know this has been discussed in North Dakota. It’s been discussed in Iowa,” he said.

“Some of the crushers are starting to get concerned about lower protein down there…. It’s not just Manitoba.”

The U.S. soy industry may also be worried about protein, but there’s little doubt that longer maturing beans produce more protein.

“If you look within North America, there’s a north-south gradient. You go north and there is lower protein,” said Elroy Cober, an Agriculture Canada soybean breeder in Ontario.

“If you compare (soybeans from) North America to South America, North America has lower protein.”

Fewer days to maturity have an effect, but plant breeding priorities are also a factor.

Breeders and seed companies focus on yield potential because growers crave higher yields.

However, protein content typically goes down when yields go up.

Labelle said plant breeders could develop soybeans with higher amounts of protein that are suitable for western Canadian conditions.

That may be true, but soybeans with more protein may have lower yields.

“It’s definitely a solvable problem,” Cober said. “The question is, can you afford to solve the problem? How much of a yield trade off is there to raise the protein?”

Buyers may be raising red flags but Manitoba soybean growers shouldn’t panic, Hyde said.

However, they may have to accept slightly lower prices compared to soybeans from warmer regions.

“I don’t think it’s a real big deal,” he said. “It just has to be assumed that when we export it we may have a what I’ll call a basis discount at the port position.”

So, a soybean grower in Brandon might receive less for his beans than a producer in Watertown, South Dakota. How much less is for the buyer to decide.

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