Falling soybean prices may not be doing much to improve the profitability of U.S. producers, but they are helping fuel soybean export demand, according to officials with the United Soybean Board.

“Clearly, as the price goes lower, the demand for soybeans goes higher,” says soybean producer Jerry Slocum of Coldwater, Miss.

Slocum, who also serves as International Marketing Chairman for the United Soybean Board, spoke at the commodity group's press conference following the USB International Marketing Meeting in St. Louis.

“Low soybean prices are increasing export demand, which is helping fuel what we are anticipating will be a record demand for U.S. soybeans this year,” says Slocum. “No impediment should exist for soybean exports to Europe or to any other part of the world.”

The job of the soybean check-off program, he says, is to put U.S. soybeans into as competitive a place in the world as is possible. “Our efforts to better position, and market, U.S. soybeans in the world have become much more focused. It's not something we're going to do overnight, but we are making progress.”

While Slocum concedes that the soybean check-off program may not be able to directly affect futures prices, he says it can, and does, effect the demand for U.S. soybeans. In a few years, he says, the demand for soybeans may even out-pace supply.

Responding to a recent price outlook, which predicted 2001 soybean crop prices would likely fall within 20-cents either side of $4, Slocum says, “In my mind, we're just about there. Clearly, lower soybean prices will have a major impact on soybean producers around the world, as well as on consumption.”

However, he says, “The nice thing about being soybean producers in the United States is our marketing loan. For Mississippi producers, it's about $5.25 per bushel and that's a safety net that we've got that our competition, primarily in South America, doesn't enjoy.”

In addition, Slocum says, “We need to face the facts that all of our commodity prices are low, and soybeans, for many U.S. farmers, are still the best option.”

Currently, according to the United Soybean Board, every other row of soybeans planted in the United States is exported to other countries. Of those soybeans exported, one out of every five bushels exported is shipped to China, and that number is rising. The United States has also seen a recent 15 percent rise in soybean exports to the European Union.

“These numbers show the importance of exports to U.S. producers,” says Dwain Ford, an Illinois farmer and chairman of the American Soybean Association's trade policy and international affairs committee.

To further increase the export opportunities available to U.S. growers, Ford says the American Soybean Association is working to insure exporting countries conform to the World Trade Organization guidelines and regulations. The group is also lobbying to lift the trade barriers and sanctions that he believes are “costing farmers billions of dollars.”

Phil Laney, the American Soybean Association's country director in China, adds, “China was our Number One market last year. And, as of today, our sales for this market year to date are within spitting distance of the entire market year last year. That means this will be our sixth straight year of increasing soybean exports to China.”

“Our outlook in China is not just good, it's for impending growth,” he says. “Soybeans are not part of the national subsidy program in China and, therefore, aren't manipulated by the government to the same degree as wheat and corn. Plus, the Chinese demand for soy products is almost double their domestic production capabilities. So, I don't worry that we are going to lose this market to domestic production.”

Most of the export gains to date, Laney says, have been the result of sales of soybean feed to the freshwater aquaculture industry. In addition, a new market opportunity for soybean feed is opening in the region.

“Our check-off dollars are helping us get into the soy feed market for the marine aquaculture industry. The potential is there to sell another million or million and a half tons of feed with a 40 percent soybean content to the marine aquaculture industry.”

e-mail: doreen_muzzi@intertec.com