First a December case of mad cow disease shut many a door to U.S. beef exports. Then, in early February, reports of an Avian flu outbreak in poultry surfaced in Delaware, causing South Korea and Japan to lock out U.S. poultry products.
All of this potentially could impact the soybean market because any drop in domestic livestock and poultry production could theoretically translate into a similar decrease in the need for soybean-based feed products.
The soybean industry is apparently taking notice. In an effort to minimize the impact to soybean producers and offer support to their fellow producers, the United Soybean Board has created a Livestock Industry Initiative. The plan is for soybean growers involved in the commodity group to help develop a strategic plan for the long-term growth of the domestic livestock industry.
"U.S. livestock producers have faced increased regulation at home and competition abroad. At the same time, 97 percent of soybean meal goes to livestock feed. Soybean farmers cannot afford to be neutral toward the challenges that impact their number one customer," the United Soybean Board says.
According to United Soybean Board Chairman Criss Davis of Shullsburg, Wis., the U.S. poultry and livestock industries use more than half of the U.S. soybean crop. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show 51 percent of U.S.-produced soybean meal is consumed by poultry, 24 percent by swine and 19 percent by cattle.
"The impact and importance of the poultry and livestock industries to our economy are now very clear," Davis said. "The closer chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle are to the soybeans we produce, the better our profit opportunities will be."
The soybean check-off already contributes more than $1.5 million a year to help build U.S. poultry, pork and beef exports. But Davis says he believes the soybean check-off, and the rest of the U.S. soybean industry, can do more.
"The domestic poultry and livestock industries probably represent the most under-appreciated economic sectors of rural America," says Davis. "Both are enormously important to us as soybean farmers. They are important to our rural towns and to Main Streets everywhere."
He says, "The success of the livestock industry is crucial to a large portion of our economy outside of just the producers. For example, a report released late last year by the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council shows the poultry and livestock industries account for more than $5.2 billion in economic activity and have a direct impact on 90,000 jobs in the state. That tops three of Minnesota's largest employers — Northwest Airlines, 3M and Medtronic — combined. This example illustrates the ripple affect that our livestock industry has on the economy. If production were forced out of the United States, not only would soybean producers lose their No. 1 customer, but all parts of the U.S. economy would suffer."