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ISA Special Feed Quality Alert #14 — Improved Soybean Compositional Quality = Industry Sustainability

Choose a More Sustainable Future by Selecting Higher-Quality Soybean Varieties

This message marks the final edition of the Illinois Soybean Association’s High Yield PLUS Quality (HY+Q) thought-provoking Special Alert email series.

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Gain valuable insight about what is happening with livestock feed value of soybean and Illinois soybean’s competitive advantage versus alternative protein and amino acid sources. Also, learn more about what you and the soybean industry can do to reverse this decline and protect our No. 1 market and most important customers. Signup Today

More than three months ago, the first email in this series introduced you to serious concerns about declining nutritional value of soybeans and a parallel decrease in livestock ration inclusion rates—especially in swine diets. These trends mirror traditional plant breeding goals that emphasized yield and oil content, which has had a net negative effect on soybean compositional quality. This effect has certainly been noticed by soybean end-users.

As you may recall, nutritionists report that soybean inclusion rates in hog rations have plunged more than 70 percent since 1990. Significant portions of soybean meal in livestock feed have been replaced with alternative protein sources, such as corn or DDGS, along with synthetic amino acids.

End-user economic sustainability is at the root of this issue, which has tremendous implications for the soybean industry’s ultimate sustainability.

As the protein and amino acid content of soybeans fell, livestock growers understandably looked to alternative feed sources to meet animal nutritional needs.

Dollars and Cents

It’s pretty simple. Swine farmers, for example, must raise hogs as economically and efficiently as possible. If they are forced to buy more soybean meal to achieve the same animal performance results, their cost of production increases. In these times of increasingly tight profit margins, soybeans will continue to lose market share to lower-cost, alternative feed ingredients.

“The level of soybean meal in our swine ration depends on cost and soybean protein analysis based on amino acid content,” explains Gary Asay of Osco, Illinois, in Henry County. Asay raises 300 acres of crops, including soybeans, in addition to his 9,500-head wean-to-finish hog operation.

This emphasis on economic sustainability also requires livestock producers to fully maximize feed-ingredient effectiveness. And reduce over-feeding of expensive ration components that end up being excreted as manure rather than utilized for growth.

While manure is a highly-valuable resource in crop production and an important leg in environmental sustainability, livestock producers also want to ensure that manure generation does not impede feed efficiency.

That’s why livestock farmers and nutritionists focus on amino acid content, rather than protein levels. Animals have specific requirements for essential amino acids, not crude protein.

As researchers note in a September 2018 article1 in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, “the great advantages of reducing dietary crude protein with free amino acids supplementation for a sustainable swine industry includes saving protein ingredients, reducing nitrogen excretion, feed costs and the risk of gut disorders without impairing growth performance compared to traditional diets.

“In pig production,” the authors say, “the dietary crude protein content can be reduced when the requirements for essential amino acids and total nitrogen are met, because for pigs the need for dietary protein is essentially a need for amino acids.”

Bringing this concept full circle, livestock producers need soybean meal with higher levels of essential amino acids if they are to increase soybean purchases and raise ration-inclusion rates. And soybean producers need to meet livestock growers’ needs to ensure a vibrant market and long-term industry sustainability.

Fortunately, these goals can increasingly be met by selecting soybean varieties that enhance feed value and amino acid content. A rising tide lifts all boats, if you will.

Extensive soybean sample testing by HY+Q partners over the past six years shows that one-half of the current soybean varieties on the market already offer superior quality and feed value. Although seed companies do not commonly offer information about amino acid content at the variety level just yet, the HY+Q program does. Learn which varieties meet these criteria.

Ultimately, soybean growers and their customers want the same thing: an opportunity to succeed while providing meaningful products in a responsible, respectful way. Concludes Asay, “Sustainability to me means raising food in a manner that has the least effect on the environment and reduces reliance on non-renewable resources.”

Thanks for following us on this Special Alert email journey. If you missed an email, you can access the entire Special Alert email series by visiting the Newsletter Archive.

Also visit to learn more about what you can do to better meet end-user needs and promote soybean market sustainability at the same time.

  1. Wang Y, Zhou J, Wang G, Cai S, Zeng X, QiaoS. Advances in low protein diets for swine. J Ani. Sci and Biotechnol. 9:60. 2018. Available at:

The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) checkoff and membership programs represent more than 43,000 soybean growers in Illinois. The checkoff funds market development, soybean innovation and profitability efforts, issues analysis, communications and education. Membership and advocacy efforts support Illinois soybean farmer interests in local areas, Springfield and Washington, D.C. through the Illinois Soybean Growers. ISA programs are designed to ensure Illinois soy is the highest quality, most dependable, sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace. For more information, visit the website