By traditional protein and oil quality measures, the 2017 Illinois soybean crop performed well compared to the national average.

Protein was slightly lower. Oil was slightly higher. And by a relatively new measure—the composite feed value based on seven essential amino acids critical to livestock customers—the 2017 Illinois crop also performed well compared with the national average.

Bottom line: In addition to being the leading soybean state in the U.S. in terms of total production (611.9 million bushels) and average yield (58 bushels/acre), Illinois soybean farmers can be proud of producing soybeans with high end-user value based on important customer-based quality measures.

Average Illinois protein in 2017, at 33.9 percent, was 0.1 points below the U.S. average, according to the 2017 United States Soybean Quality Annual Report prepared by the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC). Over the past five years, Illinois soybeans have been just above or just below the national average, averaging 0.1 points below the U.S. average during the period.

Average Illinois oil content in 2017, at 19.3 percent, was 0.2 points above the U.S. average. That’s also the average difference vs. the U.S. over the past five years.

Amino acids and feed quality

The composite feed value of the key amino acids is the new quality measure being promoted by ISA’s HY+Q (High Yield PLUS Quality) program. The feed value measure—expressed in $/ton—was developed by HY+Q in conjunction with swine and poultry nutritionists, who formulate feed rations based on seven essential amino acids, not protein. This acknowledges the critical importance to soybean growers of the U.S. and global livestock industry, which consumes just over 70 percent of the soybeans grown on U.S. farms, according to USDA.

The composite value of Illinois soybeans in 2017 was pennies below the U.S. average. The average composite soybean meal value of samples submitted to USSEC from 308 Illinois farm fields was $312.61/ton. The average for U.S. soybeans (excluding Illinois) was $313.46/ton. In 2016, Illinois soybeans were worth slightly more than the U.S. average, $319.84/ton vs. $319.14/ton.

The livestock feed value of amino acids is an important new approach to measuring soybean quality based on end-user value. Based on what we have learned so far from HY+Q research, we know that amino acid profiles for soybean varieties can vary, and this results in varieties with higher or lower end-user value. We think that growing high-yielding varieties with high-value amino acids can bring extra savings/value to livestock customers, and can support the demand for Illinois and U.S. soybeans.

Selecting varieties for higher end-user value 

Comparing the value of amino acids in soybeans submitted by Illinois farmers to USSEC for its 2017 quality report shines a spotlight on the opportunity to improve end-user value. Soybean meal from the top 10 percent of samples would be worth $324.39/ton based on their superior amino acid profiles. That’s $13.06/ton more than the value of the remaining 90 percent of samples.

Value Differences in Illinois Soybeans (2017)

Top 10% Bottom 90% Difference
Composite Meal Value ($/ton) $324.39 #311.34 $13.06

Shifting to higher-value soybean varieties will require cooperation between farmers and seed companies, which are in the early stages of identifying which varieties produce higher levels of high-value amino acids. We suggest that farmers ask their seed companies to help them select high-yielding varieties with the best possible amino acid profile.

Ultimately, improving soybean quality has the potential to build demand for soybeans by providing higher value to our customers. At recent meetings in Taiwan and Indonesia, crushers were excited about HY+Q efforts to focus on amino acids as a driver of improved value and competitiveness for U.S. soybeans.

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About the Author: Linda Krull

As director of ag innovations for the Illinois Soybean Association, Kull directs team efforts establishing new programs and networks for Illinois agriculture that focus on the soybean value chain, soybean quality and value for customers, farm profitability and business management, new and emerging ag technologies, new uses, and farmer-facing activities and events. Kull earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in botany and plant physiology from Eastern Illinois University and completed a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in plant pathology and crop sciences.