New uses and new markets for soy exist around the world, and much of the future potential for the little beige bean exists in exports.

In 2008, that potential soared — over 1.5 billion bushels of soy, valued at more than $12 billion, was exported from the U.S. Soybean oil in particular saw a 68% increase over the previous year's exports. All total, 1.1 million metric tons (mmt) of soybean oil and 1.1 billion bushels of whole beans were exported. Those are important numbers, as soy exports represent 46% of U.S. soybean production.

Where and how are those soybeans being used? The answer is in everything from aquaculture to goat feed. Here's a glimpse from around the globe:

Aquaculture

Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food-producing sector, consuming over 500 billion pounds of soybean meal each year — and there is potential for much more. The global aquaculture industry has been increasing by 9-11% a year, but that's expected to grow as the world's population surges. The United Soybean Board (USB) anticipates that 40-50 mmt of additional aquaculture production will be needed by 2050, which creates opportunities for more soybean meal to be used, as well.

China has been a leader in caged aquaculture production and the use of soybean meal — especially as traditional fishmeal is becoming more scarce and costly. With that, China is the top importer of U.S. soybeans with 490 million bushels used for human and animal consumption. China also imports 171,000 metric tons of soy oil which is used as cooking oil and for other food uses.

Efforts are also underway to help India transform its aquaculture industry. This past year, the U.S. soybean checkoff partnered with the Indian Broiler Group to develop a new fish feed production facility in India to help transition from fishmeal to soy-based feeds. Aquaculture is especially important in India, where the majority of the rapidly growing population avoids beef and pork for religious reasons.

Additionally, efforts continue to incorporate soy into all species of farmed fish. Ocean capture fisheries, which have long provided the majority of edible fish products for the world, have reached maximum sustainable yields. So, any expansion will have to come from aquaculture, and using soy as an aqua feed will be a big part of that expansion.

One group that has partnered with the checkoff on open-ocean farming is Kona Blue, a Hawaiian-based operation that sees a definite opportunity for soy and aquaculture to join forces. “If 50% of the global expansion in aquaculture is high-end fish and 50% of their feed inclusion is soy, that could mean another $7.5 billion worth of soy going to aquaculture,” says Neil Sims, president of the company that grows high-end Kona Kampachi.

To help continue the promotion and use of soybean meal in aquaculture abroad, soybean checkoff funds have supported over 150 feeding trials to demonstrate the nutritional values and economic advantages of using species-specific soy-based rations. New projects also help shrimp farmers around the world to find ways for more soy to be used in shrimp diets.

Combating World Hunger

With 131 million bushels of U.S. soybeans, Mexico comes in as the second-largest importer. Throughout Mexico and Latin America, soy is promoted as helping improve nutrition and alleviate world hunger — especially for children. This is being done through government food-aid programs that represent about 40% of the total consumption of soybeans for the human health market worldwide.

As examples, in Latin American countries the government fed 11 million children using soy protein in their daily diets. Another 5.7 million children in Mexico were fed diets that included soy cookies, textured soy proteins and soymilk or dairy formulations that contain soy. In addition, a corn-soy blend formulation is the most consumed product in government food aid programs in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Colombia.

Of these efforts, Terry Ecker, an Elmo, MO, soybean farmer and chair of the USB's International Marketing committee says, “As a soybean farmer I'm proud to be a part of the solution to world hunger. The soybean checkoff will continue to fund efforts that promote U.S. soy, which helps feed the world, using soy protein or the meat, milk and eggs from animals fed soy protein.”

International educational efforts to children that emphasize the value of soy are also an important part of this effort. One specific promotion encouraged children in grades four through six in Mexico and Costa Rica, via a drawing contest. The contest taught participants about the general uses and benefits of soy protein. The program targeted nearly 70,000 people, including parents and students, about the benefits of soy for human consumption. The contest selected six winners from each country, and the winners received a trip to the U.S. to visit a soybean farm and other cultural sites.

More Than 80 Countries

Today, U.S. soy is exported to over 80 countries worldwide. While China and Mexico maintain the top two spots, Japan is the third largest destination for U.S. soybeans with nearly 100 million bushels.

U.S. soybeans also have maintained a strong foothold in the European Union, with Germany importing 45 million bushels, The Netherlands shipping in 43 million bushels and Spain accepting 19 million bushels.

Southeast Asia has been a large growth market for U.S. soybeans, especially for poultry and livestock feed production, which is growing by 5-10% annually.

Countries with large populations of goats for meat production — which is the most widely consumed meat in the world — also represent huge potential for U.S. soy exports. Soy-based high-protein energy blocks are one way foreign goat producers put weight on their goats. Feeding studies in Thailand have shown animals that consumed this soy block showed an average daily gain 70% higher than animals that did not consume the blocks. Last year, Thailand imported $122 million worth of U.S. soybeans, and feeding goats may be a way to continue to grow this international market.

Missouri's Ecker attributes the international appeal of soybeans to the efforts that have gone into hosting and sending trade delegations to inform other countries about the benefits of soy. He adds that as the export potential for soybeans is poised to grow, trade missions and livestock feeding demonstrations that prove the advantages of using U.S. soybeans will continue to maintain and increase international demand for U.S. soybeans.

here at home

Continued use of soy products here in the U.S. is also important to boosting demand for soybeans. As one example, the soybean checkoff is working to increase animal feed consumption of U.S. soybean meal in order to reach the long-range goal of annually utilizing 3.5 billion bushels by 2010.

To help achieve that goal, research projects are being funded to learn more about utilizing soybeans in livestock feed. A project at the Texas Engineering Experiment Station is studying methods to increase metabolizable energy in soybean meal. As well, an animal utilization education and information initiative is underway, aiming to provide more information about the nutritional needs of swine and the role soybeans may play. From this, the National Swine Nutrition Guide is being developed.

Annually, the soybean checkoff utilizes more than $5.8 million in funding to benefit animal agriculture.