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Soybean Production Faces Challenges

03/26/2024

During calendar 2023, 49.0 million metric tons (1,800 million bushels) of soybeans were exported by the U.S. valued at close to $30 billion.  China was the leading importer receiving 50.6 percent of shipments.  For the 2023-2024 marketing year to date, exports are 18.3 percent lower compared to the previous market year mainly due to lower orders from China.  This is attributed to reduced production of pork, preferential purchases from Brazil and a concerted attempt by the Government of China to reduce inclusion rates of soybean meal in livestock feeds. 

For consecutive calendar years 2017 through 2019 the U.S. supplied 34 percent of soybean requirements for China amounting to 95.5 million metric tons (3,508 million bushels).  There was a sharp decline in exports thereafter during the years of trade instability and reciprocal raising of tariffs. Finalization of the Phase-1 Trade Agreement promised restoration to 95.0 million metric tons for the 2020-2021 market year but shipments only attained 60.3 million metric tons (2,215 million bushels).

 

In a recent CoBank Report authored by Brian Earnest and colleagues, crush margins will be under pressure over the long term based on increased capacity relative to static domestic offtake of soybean meal and concurrent importation of vegetable oils including canola and palm oil.

 

The demand for biodiesel will be the only saving grace for soybean producers and crushers over 2024. Approximately 41 percent of soybeans will be consigned to biodiesel production. Projected demand for soy oil and soybean meal will have to be considered by farmers in their 2024 planting decision.

 

The CoBank Report concluded that a 23 percent overcapacity in the U.S. soybean crushing sector by 2027 will be detrimental to crush margins and indirectly to the price of soybeans.