Great Expectations


Soybean farmers can keep end-users coming back by always striving to improve quality

Like all consumers, farmers have certain expectations of the products they buy and the companies with which they do business. If a product or service isn’t up to par, farmers won’t hesitate to look elsewhere to get their needs met.

End-users of U.S. soybeans are no different.

So with multiple sources for soy products available, U.S. farmers must understand and meet export partners’ expectations.

Table stakes

Price is a major purchase consideration for exporters, but it’s not the only factor, and as soybean sourcing options increase, so do the expectations of quality and sustainability.  End users expect that U.S. soybeans are grown in a sustainable manner, soybean oil is functional as a food ingredient, soybean meal provides a certain nutrient profile and shipments contain minimal foreign material.

To match what buyers demand, farmers need to know what their end-users want and strive for continuous quality improvement to meet those demands.

“Customers always want something that gets better so they get a product that works well for them,” says Bruce Weber, director of soybean product line grain marketing for CHS Inc.

Weber adds that U.S. soybean products generally meet customer needs, but the industry needs to remain focused and strive for continuous improvement. By understanding what customers want, soybean farmers will be in a better position to deliver what is expected from meal and oil.

Show and tell

Derek Haigwood farms near Newport, Arkansas. He recently met with soybean processors in China as part of a U.S. Soybean Export Council mission. During his trip, he found that some processors had concerns with the amount of foreign matter in U.S. shipments.

“I went into a crush plant and pulled out a handful of stalks and pods from a shipment of U.S. soybeans,” recalls Haigwood. “Just because the foreign matter limit is 2 percent doesn’t mean we should hit the maximum every time, especially when they’ll pay more for cleaner soybeans.”

While this is not necessarily an issue that can be traced back to farmers, challenges anywhere in the system reflect on the U.S. soy industry as a whole.

“We want to be open-minded and receptive to the requests and wishes of our end-users,” Haigwood says. “We want to meet the demand they have, not only in volume but also in quality.”

Haigwood believes the best way to do this is by living up to an old adage: Actions speak louder than words.

“Through our service and quality, we need to demonstrate to them that not only do we say we’re the best, but that we are the best,” says Haigwood.

Plant accordingly

Weber says end-users drive demand, so it’s important for farmers to know what their customers want and make decisions based on that.

In some cases, farmers might be able to gain value by being transparent and showing how they’re meeting end-users’ needs. Opportunities may exist for farmers willing to plant non-GMO or food-grade varieties or for those farmers who meet sustainability standards.

For your biggest customers, considering soybean varieties with greater oil and protein content when you select seed is a great place to start.

“If farmers are choosing between two soybean varieties with the same yield potential, choose the one that has the better oil and better protein,” Weber says.

Maintain the advantage

Whether it is for commodity soybeans, food-grade or even non-GMO varieties, meeting and exceeding expectations can help keep U.S. soybeans first on the list.

“We’re not the only soybeans out there,” Haigwood adds. “But if countries like China increase the amount they bought from us even by one ship per year, think of what that would do for the price.”