This little piggy went to China, this little chick went to Japan, and along with them went nearly 60 percent of the 3.1 billion bushels of soybeans grown in the U.S. last year.

For livestock rich and grain poor Southeastern states continuation of this trend could have serious long-term effects on rural economies fueled by animal agriculture.

In the U.S. last year pigs, cattle, chickens and fish consumed 1.2 billion bushels of soy meal produced from U.S. grown soybeans. Livestock producers, both in the U.S. and abroad are by far the biggest buyers of U.S. grown soybeans.

Relative low value of the U.S. dollar, and high demand for soy meal for livestock feed, especially in China, has created a rise in exports of U.S. grown soybeans.

While a short-term boon for U.S. soybean growers, some are concerned about the long-range implications for the U.S. livestock industry.

Despite its well-documented economic value and historic place in U.S. agricultural production, some contend the country’s livestock industry is rapidly being replaced by off-shore operations that are quick to tap into the meat needs of U.S. consumers.

A recent USDA report compiled by Ken Mathews and Rachel Johnson documents that U.S. cattle herds are at their lowest level since 1952. In 2008, the latest peak year for beef, production was 26.5 billion pounds, but of this total, more than 1.5 billion pounds came from Canada and Mexico.

U.S. pork imports rose about 1 percent in the first-quarter of 2011, compared to the first quarter of 2010. While the increase, compared to total U.S. pork productions was small (201 million pounds), the implications are disturbing for some U.S. producers.

Last year pigs in China, Taiwan and Japan combined consumed nearly a billion bushels of U.S. grown soybeans. While U.S. soybean growers are reaping the benefits of the bountiful trade, U.S. livestock growers are scrambling to keep prices under control to prevent large market share losses.

Of bigger concern than the current use of U.S. grown soybeans is the future demand of the growing middle classes in Asia, especially in China.

If current soy meal use trends for livestock continue on the current 10-year growth line, over the next 10 years, China alone will have to increase soybean imports by 21 million bushels just to remain at their current feeding levels. Some industry experts contend the demand will be closer to 40 million bushels.