The United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean checkoff continue developing new uses and new demand for soybeans in all lands of the world, and even the ocean holds great potential for soy.

Soybean meal has increasingly become a key ingredient in fish feeds as the aquaculture industry strives to meet global demand for its products, thanks in part to checkoff research and marketing efforts.

“Fish meal is getting scarce and more costly, creating a market opportunity for more soybean meal to be used as a protein source in fish and shrimp diets,” says Bill Coppess, USB director and a soybean farmer from Ansonia, Ohio. “Soy diets can also decrease the mercury levels in seafood, helping to alleviate some health concerns.”

Aquaculture represents great potential for soybean meal, because aquaculture is the fastest-growing animal-food-producing sector, consuming soybean meal from over 250 million bushels of soybeans.

In the United States, each person eats about 16.5 pounds of fish and shellfish each year, including about 4.4 pounds of shrimp. The U.S. consumes about 1.4 billion pounds of shrimp annually.

“Crustaceans represent about 4 percent of aquaculture products worldwide, but represent about 20 percent of the value,” says Karen Fear, USB director and a soybean farmer from Montpelier, Ind. “That’s why the soybean checkoff is working with shrimp farmers around the world to find ways for more soy to be used in shrimp diets.”

The soybean checkoff also works to incorporate soy into all species of farmed fish. Ocean capture fisheries, which have long provided the majority of edible fish products for the world, have reached maximum sustainable yields. This means that any expansion will have to come from aquaculture, and using soy as an aquafeed will be a big part of that expansion.

One group that has partnered with the checkoff on open-ocean farming is Kona Blue, an operation that sees a definite opportunity for soy and aquaculture to join forces. “If 50 percent of the global expansion in aquaculture is high-end fish and 50 percent of their feed inclusion is soy, that could mean another $7.5 billion worth of soy going to aquaculture,” says Neil Sims, president of the Hawaiian-based company that grows high-end Kona Kampachi.

The soybean checkoffs’ Soy In Aquaculture program further invested in open-ocean aquaculture by supporting the Ocean Cage Aquaculture Technology (OCAT) project. The project began in 2004 and includes the design and construction of ocean cages built to withstand typhoon-strength winds. The marine life in OCAT cages are fed with soy-based floating aquafeeds. The patent-pending OCAT cages are 100-cubic-meter, rigid-frame cages capable of culturing up to 10 metric tons of fish per cage. The cages are designed to be primarily auto-submersible and operate with a single-point mooring system.

USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.