Value Meal: How Livestock Development Can Boost Profitability for Soybean Growers

April 26, 2023

Successful livestock nutrition programs have incorporated soybean meal as a primary staple for several generations. Soybean meal offers livestock producers a highly digestible source of protein rich in essential amino acids. And while meal may not fetch the same premium as oil in today’s price environment, it nevertheless remains critical to the bottom lines of soybean producers in South Dakota and across the country.

With that in mind, the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council has committed to supporting livestock development initiatives at home and abroad, investing in research on animal nutrition and educating producers on the merits of livestock diets built around soybean meal.

Livestock Development and Soybean Profitability

The impact of a healthy, robust livestock industry on soybean profitability cannot be understated. According to USDA data, approximately 60 percent of all soybean meal produced in the U.S. is consumed by livestock domestically. The remaining 40 percent goes toward livestock production around the globe, which accounted for $6.16 billion worth of revenue in 2022.

The above does not reflect whole bean exports — valued at ​​$34.39 billion for the year — and the overall demand for soybean meal worldwide.

Dave Iverson, South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council District 4 Director, points out that soybean processing yields a 4:1 meal-to-oil ratio. That fact, coupled with higher yields and increased planted acres, makes supporting meal demand all the more important.

“We need to create more meal demand, and livestock is the perfect opportunity for soybean producers,” says Iverson, who farms near Astoria.

Domestic Production Thrives

In Iverson’s mind, that demand growth starts at home. “It’s really important to keep our focus on increasing animal production here in South Dakota,” he says.

A strong domestic livestock industry provides market stability. It also requires less freight and other trade-related costs for homegrown soybean meal.

South Dakota Soybean has long played an active role in supporting research and education to advance livestock nutrition using soybean meal in diets for swine, poultry and dairy cattle. More recently, however, the checkoff has turned its attention to aquaculture production as an emerging destination for meal.

Iverson also notes that new processing facilities in South Dakota offer soybean producers the possibility of increased returns with a strong livestock industry in place. “That’s a great opportunity for South Dakota producers to keep that value in-state,” he explains.

South Dakota Soybean Association board member Brent Greenway agrees. “If we could consume all of the soybean meal that we grow and create in South Dakota, that'd be just a phenomenal boon for the state,” he says.

Greenway grows row crops, runs a cow-calf operation and finishes hogs outside of Mt. Vernon. He says he currently feeds more meal to the pigs in his finishing barns than his farm produces and is excited about a new processing facility slated for nearby Mitchell.

Global Meal Demand Grows

Their emphasis on domestic livestock development notwithstanding, both farmers also assert the value of their checkoff developing global markets for soybean meal.

An emerging middle class is creating additional demand for livestock production on the international side. South Dakota Soybean has responded to this promising development by working alongside other checkoff organizations and industry leaders to nurture trade relationships and advance the nutritional value of soybean meal in livestock diets.

“There's a vast number of things that the checkoff is doing that helps the producer fetch a higher price for their beans,” says Greenway. South Dakota Soybean sponsored a trade mission in January to Morocco in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, which has emerged as a leading destination for U.S. soybean meal. “These trade missions that we're doing are showing the effectiveness of soybean meal as a feed product for livestock,” he says.

Get Involved

A lot of exciting work is happening around new uses for soybean oil, but the checkoff’s emphasis on supporting meal demand remains just as important. Check out some of South Dakota Soybean’s efforts to promote livestock development or talk to your district director to learn more.