Over the past few years, the Illinois Soybean Association has been educating farmers about the importance of producing quality soybeans in order to remain competitive in a global market.

A main component of that quality is meeting minimum industry standards for protein and oil content.

Soybeans with at least 35 percent protein and 19 percent oil content provide optimal value to buyers in today’s market, and Illinois soybean growers met those standards on average last year.

A soybean checkoff-funded study indicated protein and oil levels were higher last year than in 2012. The average protein levels from more than 500 soybean samples met the 35 percent target, and the average oil content was 19.2 percent, compared to 34.3 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in 2012.

Bill Raben, ISA chairman and Ridgway, Ill., soybean farmer, said the gains can’t yet be attributed to any one factor.

Soybeans in the northeastern Illinois crop reporting district had the highest protein content the past two years with 35.7 percent in 2013 and 34.9 percent in 2012.

The oil level averaged 19.6 percent in southeastern Illinois last year and 19.5 percent in northwestern Illinois in 2012.

Despite some good news for Illinois, “On a national scale, data show protein and oil levels in U.S. soybeans are declining, which hurts the profitability and competitiveness of the industry,” Raben said.

“Farmers may not understand how closely composition levels are tied to the price they receive for their soybeans, but they actually get paid less for beans with lower protein and oil levels,” said Sharon Bard, coordinator with Centrec Consulting Group, the firm that analyzed the samples.

“Soybeans with at least 35 percent protein and 19 percent oil content provide optimal value to buyers in today’s market.”

As part of the study, Centrec also calculated the Estimated Processed Value on a per-bushel basis.

Using the same soybean meal and oil prices for both 2012 and 2013 protein and oil averages, EPV for the 2012 averages was $14.33 and EPV for the 2013 averages was $14.57.

Assuming a 20-cent-per-bushel processing margin, farmers could have received $14.13 for soybeans with the 2012 average protein and oil versus $14.37 for soybeans with the 2013 averages. That’s 24 cents more per bushel for soybeans with the higher protein and oil content.

Work will continue at 2014 harvest with collection of soybean samples from elevators across the state.

“More data will offer further insights into the relationships between soybean component levels, EPV, weather, genetics and environment,” Bard said.

“Ensuring levels beat minimum standards in years to come is as simple as picking soybean varieties with optimum yield potential and then asking your seed dealer for the protein and oil data on those varieties,” Raben added.