China and biofuels are growth markets for soybeans

November 15, 2021

Demand for U.S.-grown soybeans will heat up because of the volume needed by China and the biofuels industry, according to market experts analyzing projections from the USDA. Kevin McNew, Chief Economist for the Farmers Business Network, provided analysis for the recent United Soybean Board (USB) and U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) webinar on the November World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. McNew was asked for his take on demand for U.S. soybeans exported to China given talk about Chinese crush margins being tight while there is also a belief that the Chinese might begin to stockpile commodities.

“[The Chinese market] may not be growing as much as it has in the last decade, but it’s still a growth market,” said McNew, during the webinar. “Southeast Asia is a growth market, I mean there are so many growth markets, as I’m sure you guys [at the USSEC] are well aware because you’re creating those markets. Yeah, we’re going to have ups and downs with China; I don’t see anything systematic that concerns me around this. It was a haircut going from 101 million metric tons to 100 million metric tons [in projected Chinese soybean imports]. Again, that can quickly turn north if we see margins turn quickly like they have historically.”

Where domestic demand is concerned, McNew says investment in biofuels infrastructure and soybean crush capacity influences projected soybean demand.

“What’s unique about this is this co-investment by Big Oil and Big Ag,” said McNew. “That’s really something we have never seen happen in this space. It didn’t happen in ethanol. It was strictly farm co-ops and then venture firms that were going to invest in these plants, but now you have these alliances forming. For example, ADM, one of the world’s largest soy processors, is now in a joint venture with Marathon Energy to build the first soybean plant in North Dakota.”

Webinar host Mac Marshall, vice-president of market intelligence for the USB and USSEC, added his perspective about the investment happening in refining and crush capacity.

“My initial take is like once you start seeing all these announcements of these proposed builds and you see what the potential volume draw is on it,” said Marshall, during the webinar, “you get very excited and say ‘hey, this could be a five-billion, six-billion-gallon market,’ and in terms of the feedstock that’s going to be needed to supply that, that implies that it’s potentially a 40-to-50-billion-pound market [for soybean oil] as well, just in terms of feedstocks. Naturally, we don’t produce that much soybean oil in the country.”

The bottom line for Marshall is that the news is encouraging for soybean growers, concluding that demand from renewable diesel is “really exciting and presents a great opportunity for farmers.”