China is the top international destination for U.S. soy, importing 849 million bushels of whole U.S. soybeans in the most recent marketing year. It is hard to imagine that number growing, but experts expect U.S. soybean exports to China to increase this year due to heavy rains and flooding in some of the biggest soybean-producing regions of the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts China’s soybean imports will increase by 16 percent compared to last year.
In this interview, soy checkoff farmer-leader Marc Curtis, a soybean farmer from Leland, Miss., and past chairman of the United Soybean Board (USB), discusses the importance of China to U.S. soybean farmers’ bottom lines, what the future may have in store for exporting there and how delivering quality soybeans to international customers is essential.
Q: With the recent flooding in China, soybean exports to that country are expected to go higher. What are you hearing about how much the flooding might affect Chinese production and U.S. exports as a result?
A: I think we can expect Chinese imports to go much higher. China has a developing economy with 1.4 billion people. They can’t grow more soybeans than they are growing now. They are going to have to increase their meat production through imported soybeans and corn. With all of these factors, I think the potential to increase exports to China is very good.
Q: What does the checkoff do to keep China’s demand so high?
A: First of all, we assist their livestock industry with technology and demonstrations to show they can grow more meat on their given land mass area by using soybeans. That increases the market and also shows them the higher quality of the U.S. beans. We show them that they can get more meat from dollars spent by using U.S. soybeans instead of the competition.
Q: How important is it to maintain China as a destination for U.S. soy?
A: China takes over half of our exports. Essentially, about one of out every four row of beans that U.S. farmers plant go to China. China is a vital export market for U.S. soybeans. Without those customers, we would not have the prices that we have today. It would be very difficult to replace China as a customer.
Q: How much do soybean exports drive U.S. farmer profitability?
A: Exports for the U.S. soybean industry amount to more than half of the crop. It creates demand for the soybean crop, and the more demand we have, the higher the prices will be.
Q: How important is quality to Chinese customers?
A: Like customers in all the other countries we export to, Chinese customers use our soybeans for their meal and oil. The meal is turned into livestock feed and they need high levels of protein in that meal. The international soybean market is a very competitive market. Our beans are sold to China at a higher cost compared to the competition. If China is going to buy our beans, we have to offer them a higher quality compared to the competition. That is their incentive for buying U.S. soybeans.