An annual quality survey funded by the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) indicates that the 2008 U.S. soybean crop carries the lowest protein level on record.

"Average U.S. soybean protein concentration was 1.2 percentage points lower in 2008 – at 34% – and average oil was 0.6 percentage points higher – at 19.2% – when compared with 2007," said the report, which was conducted by a team of professors and scientists from the University of Minnesota, utilizing 1,447 samples submitted from 30 states.

At just 34%, the average protein content of U.S. soybeans is thus down 1.3 percentage points from normal, and represents the lowest level found since the survey was initiated in 1986.

Soybean meal is the preeminent supplemental protein source for U.S. livestock and poultry rations, accounting for two-thirds of the total oilseed meal usage in the world. Cattle, poultry and swine account for more than 85% of annual soybean meal use, with the balance consumed as pet food and human food.

Numerous studies have shown that environmental stresses have a major impact on the nutritional composition of soybeans, indicating seed protein content can often be drastically reduced during growing seasons – such as 2008 – that feature heavy rains that produce insufficient nitrogen fixation or enhance pod-fill.

Precipitation levels reached 150-300% of normal across much of the western half of the U.S. soybean belt during April, June and October of this year, causing record spring flooding in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

"Western Corn Belt states tended to have larger-than-average reductions in protein concentration relative to 2007," said the survey. "This is especially true for the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, where protein levels were more than 1.5 percentage points lower than in 2007."

In contrast, the vegetable oil content of 2008 soybeans was 0.5 percentage points above the 23-year average; again confirming the normally contrary relationship between protein concentrations and oil levels.

"Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio saw oil concentrations increase by 0.8 percentage points over 2007," said the report.

Soybean oil accounts for about half of the intrinsic value of soybeans.

Although variance in seed-size was not found to be statistically significant, the ASA/USSEC report did note that the U.S. soybean crop was much cleaner than usual in 2008.

"Foreign material among the 1,374 farmer collected samples evaluated for FM averaged 0.30%," said the survey.

Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.