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Published October 15, 2012, 10:07 AM

Crops Institute hosts soy course

Soybeans grown in Minnesota and the Dakotas may not always excel in protein content, but the three states have launched a new effort to promote special amino acid characteristics.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Soybeans grown in Minnesota and the Dakotas may not always excel in protein content, but the three states have launched a new effort to promote special amino acid characteristics.

The Northern Crops Institute, based at North Dakota State University in Fargo, hosted a first-of-its-kind, three-state short course last week to promote this region’s soybeans on a tri-state basis. The NCI typically does 10 to 15 technical courses of this kind in a year.

In this effort, about 20 purchasing and procurement people from nearly 20 companies attended, buying grain and oilseeds for six countries. Most of the soybeans are purchased for feeding chickens, hogs and fish, but some for human consumption.

“This is the first time we’ve had this kind of effort for all three of these states, putting this together,” says Mark Weber, NCI director. Weber says recent research at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere indicates the amino acid content could be an important selling point for the region to improve feed efficiency. National organizations have brought groups to the region in the past, but often the message is more generic.

“Maybe the future will be where we will be doing more specific marketing by the region of the country,” Weber says.

The effort cost $125,000 for the three states, and included a trip Portland, Ore., so the visitors could see the Port of Longview, Wash., where soybeans and other commodities from this region are loaded out to their destinations. A follow-up in a couple weeks will come in at another $125,000.

From across the world

Among those in attendance was Dalilah Ghazalay, an American Soybean Association official in Singapore, which oversees the Southeast Asia region, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Indonesia alone imports more than 1 million metric tons of soybeans a year. The Philippines is the No. 1 soybean meal buyer, using the product as livestock feed.

Some of the education was taken with risk management strategies.

Dina Atienza Laqui, a grain procurement official for San Miguel Pure Foods Co. Inc., an animal and human food company in the Philippines, says she is happy to learn more about hedging tools and seeing the overall structure of U.S. agriculture will make her a more informed buyer. She says technical people in her company had told her to be more concerned about price than amino acid specifics, and that synthetic amino acids could be added in.

The Philippines imports about 1.6 million tons and San Miguel accounts for one-fourth of that. They’ve nearly doubled to nine or 10 Panamax-sized vessels, and are building a grain terminal. The U.S. accounts for about a third of that “if the price is good,” she says. South America is the other primary source. “We’re trying to build a strong partnership with the U.S. because of Pacific Northwest development,” she says.

Soybean meal proteins — in the U.S. and in South America — have declined. U.S. percentages typically are at 48 percent protein, but that has dropped to 46 percent, possibly because of climactic shifts that have increased yield. Her company’s technical experts are telling her they can “manage” varying amino acid profiles with synthetic amino acids.

Ghazalay says a replicating study on the region’s amino acid advantages is being done in New Zealand. The group visited Agassiz Valley Grain at Barnesville, Minn. Ghazalay says some were surprised to learn that the cost of the sampling, grading and transportation to get soybeans to the export point in the Pacific Northwest could be $1.50 per bushel for soybeans. “It opened their eyes,” she says. “They didn’t realize that.”

Government-supported effort

The Northern Crops Institute is a multi-state effort, supported by legislatures in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota, as well as commodity organizations in the three states and Montana. Started by wheat producers, the organization now promotes the use and demand for many crops grown in that region. The NCI relates to a half dozen nationwide commodity groups through the state organizations.

The prominent NCI partners are the American Soybean Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, the U.S. Grains Council, the National Corn Growers, the U.S. Pea and Lentil Association and the National Sunflower Association. Currently, the education and promotion programs are about one-fourth on behalf of wheat, Weber says.

The NCI must get approval from the Legislature to spend its $3.2 million biennial budget, or $1.6 million per year. About half comes from the North Dakota general funds, and the rest comes from the commodity groups and the other two state legislatures.