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Illinois soybean producer looks beyond bushels per acre

WENONA, Ill. — Illinois farmer James Martin believes there’s more to farm profitability than just how many bushels per acre of soybeans he can harvest.

Not that yield isn’t important –— but he also feels that improving the nutritional value of the soybeans he grows is vital to increasing market demand and boosting farm profitability for both soybean and livestock producers.

Martin, who farms near Wenona, has routinely submitted harvested soybean samples to the University of Minnesota for nutritional analysis over the past 10 years.

His objective is to determine which specific soybean varieties feature the highest protein and amino acid levels that are most sought after by livestock producers.

Martin was recently recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association High Yield PLUS Quality initiative for growing soybeans with outstanding livestock feed quality.

The ISA HY+Q initiative is a soybean checkoff-funded program that has analyzed over 50,000 samples over seven years and developed a ranking methodology to determine livestock nutritional value across hundreds of the most popular soybean varieties available today.

The overall objectives of HY+Q are to supply farmers with this critical information and encourage them to select and plant those varieties with high nutritional value.

The livestock feed value of soybeans is vitally important because 70% of soybeans produced in the United States are used to feed livestock, including swine, poultry, dairy and beef cattle.

Soybean feed value is determined by the levels of seven essential amino acids that drive animal growth, productivity and profit for the livestock producer.

“Awareness for the importance of meeting the unique needs of livestock producers with high-quality soybeans is growing rapidly,” said Martin, who plants about three quarters of his soybean acreage to Syngenta’s Golden Harvest and NK seed brands and the balance to Asgrow and Pioneer soybean varieties.

“We are seeing increased involvement in the HY+Q program by major seed companies, including Syngenta, AgriGold and LG Seeds, and they are working closely with ISA to identify and promote those soybean varieties having high livestock feed value.”

Martin’s top-scoring variety in 2019 was a Golden Harvest variety in the 3.1 maturity group. This same variety scored very well in 2017 and 2018, as well in terms of exceptional livestock feed value.

“A good growing environment like we had in 2017 and 2018 tends to boost soybean quality,” Martin said. “But the growing conditions in 2019 were anything but optimal. I was pleasantly surprised that this Golden Harvest variety scored so well.”

Last spring, cool and wet conditions throughout the most desirable planting window in April and May meant that Martin was planting soybeans well into June –— right up until the cut-off date for crop insurance. Then, from July 5 through the end of August, he only received about one-quarter inch of rain, and that limited moisture was spotty.

Feed Values

David Wessel, a soybean producer and ISA director at large who farms near Chandlerville, reported that he is putting increased emphasis on livestock feed-value rankings when selecting soybean varieties.

To that end, he has been sending in soybean samples for nutritional analysis the past two or three years. Having strong amino-acid profiles, he said, is just as important as having a handle on protein and oil characteristics.

“A lot of farmers don’t realize that they are losing money when they produce soybeans with low livestock feed value,” Wessel said. “Both losses and gains in livestock feed market share are passed on to farmers and directly impact their pocketbooks.

“This is not only true with domestic livestock markets, but also with export markets. Many of the countries we export soybeans to are specifically looking for high amino-acid levels for their own livestock industries.”

Wessel adds that increased seed-company involvement in the ISA HY+Q initiative leads to more valuable, qualitative data to work with from field trials, breeding, and research and development efforts.

“Given today’s farm economy, anything we can do to add more value to the soybeans we grow is a win-win for farmers and the agricultural industry,” Wessel said. “Putting more emphasis on amino-acid profiles at the varietal level is a great way to help accomplish this.”

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