ST. LOUIS — A group of soybean farmers from around the
country have gotten a close-up look at where their crop goes, thanks to the
The farmers were chosen for this year’s See for Yourself
program. The event is sponsored by the United Soybean Board, which distributes
This year, 10 farmers traveled from St. Louis to Colombia
and Panama. The trip was scheduled to include a tour of the Panama Canal,
through which soybeans — among other crops — are transported.
“Fifty percent of our soybeans end up being exported,” said
Brent Babb of the Soybean Export Council. “Over 25 percent of that goes to
China. That’s our key market, but by far not our only market.”
Among other stops, the group was scheduled to tour a leading
feed manufacturer in Colombia. The day prior to the departure, the farmers
toured a number of sites in St. Louis, including the Donald Danforth Plant
Science Center, one of the world’s largest not-for-profit agricultural research
Soybean production has grown 158 percent since the 1980s,
according to Babb. But increasing demand has more than kept up with the
“It’s far and away the major commodity growing the fastest,”
Babb said. “That production is coming from South America in the last decade, but
a lot from the U.S. When I first started in the late ‘90s, it seemed as if
Brazil was going to put U.S. farmers out of soybean production. But the world
has consumed every bit of it. Demand is there, even at $14 or $15.”
USB represents nearly 590,000 soybean farmers, who grew
nearly 3 billion bushels of soybeans on more than 70 million acres last
“It’s a huge program,” said USB Executive Director Lisa
O’Brien. “Our purpose, the bottom line, is to maximize profit opportunities for
all soybean farmers.”
The group visited the Archer Daniels Midland facility on the
St. Louis riverbank and learned about the company’s role in the export market.
Dean Durdan, ADM’S commodity trader in St. Louis, noted that
40 million to 60 million bushels of soybeans are handled annually at the
company’s St. Louis and nearby Sauget, Ill., facilities.
St. Louis is in a unique geographic position for trading
agricultural commodities, according to Durdan.
“There are advantages that make this a main hub for export,”
he said. You’ve got bigger barges you can load in this location versus the
Illinois River. We can load 13- to 14-foot drafts here in St. Louis. In (the
Illinois River), we can only go as much as 12-foot, so they can’t load as
“Plus, there is a freight advantage, which gives us a basis
advantage to buy grain. Another thing is our proximity to Class 1 railroads.
We’re not held hostage to just truck.”
St. Louis also is south of the southernmost lock,
eliminating delays on the trip downriver to New Orleans and the Gulf of
Demand for U.S. soy is increasing globally, Durdan noted.
And that growth is not just in meal used for animal feed.
“We’re boosting use of soy, both domestic and
internationally,” Durdan said. “We have efforts relating to industrial products.
There’s a lot going on with your checkoff.”
U.S. soybean producers have one advantage over their foreign
counterparts, according to Babb. The sustainability of farming in the U.S. is
demonstrable, largely because of biotechnology.
“Sustainability is becoming much more of an issue for global
buyers,” Babb said. “Sustainability is conservation tillage, GPS, precision
farming. Everything we do is to reduce input.
“On your farm you’re always looking at how do I reduce
input? Some of that is you are concerned about the environment, but a big part
is the economic benefit. A hundred percent of farmers should say sustainability
is a big thing. Everyone wants fewer inputs.
“We do have a good story. We’re by far the most sustainable.
Even Europe, where a lot of this discussion starts, they’ll go over their fields
12 to 14 times. Be proud of this conservation. We didn’t really ask for it, but
we have an advantage.”