Farmers in Iowa have long been utilizing soybean meal for their livestock. And now farmers in China are using soybean meal at an ever-increasing rate for their own livestock – fish.

Jim Zhang, program manager for American Soybean Association’s Aquaculture program, says Asian fish producers are using processed feeds such as soybean meal more and more. China’s total soybean meal consumption for aquaculture will grow from the present 4.5 million metric tons (MMT) per year to approximately 7 MMT by 2008. It’s a sizeable market. And that’s why the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board (ISPB), American Soybean Association (ASA) and the United Soybean Board (USB) have been investing checkoff dollars to continue cultivating this growth and market potential.

Also propelling forward the use of soybean meal is China’s upcoming federal regulations, banning the small fresh fish commonly used as feed within five years, forcing caged fish producers to find an alternative feed source. One alternative is going to be soybean meal, Zhang says.

“Cage farmers are realizing the need to switch to high quality, manufactured feeds for a stable supply,” Zhang adds.

And the United States can be that stable provider. China has been known for sourcing their soybeans from both the United States and Brazil, Zhang says. “But when the price and quality of U.S. soybeans stand equally in the market to Brazilian soybeans, the U.S. will always be the preferred choice,” Zhang says.

“Americans give us the best customer service. And U.S. soybean meal has historically had better performance, more consistency, better processing technology and better amino acid profile. That’s why we choose them first whenever we can,” Zhang says.

Trials have also shown that fish given feeds formulated with soybean meal as the primary protein source have yielded rapid fish growth and low feed conversion ratios.

Ray Gaesser, a director for the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board and soybean grower near Corning, IA, says it’s gratifying to see global markets demanding U.S. soybeans.

“The soy aquaculture market is very large and growing,” Gaesser says. “It’s going to be huge in the next several years. And it looks as though aquaculture is going to have a big need for soybean meal.”

Gaesser’s right – China produces approximately 70% of all global aquaculture. And that may have an effect right here at home.

“Iowa produces 20% of all soybeans in the U.S.,” Gaesser says. “With that in mind, we should be seeing an increased usage of Iowa soybeans in China.” Dick Vegors, marketing manager of grain and grain co-products for the Iowa Department of Economic Development, agrees.

“I see the aquaculture program being one of those ventures that will utilize additional soybeans – not only in China – but all around the world,” Vegors says. “This will help create demand and stimulate sales of U.S. soybeans.”

For more information about soy in aquaculture, please visit www.soyaqua.org/ and www.soymeal.org. Information about the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board can be found at www.iasoybeans.com.