The 2019 U.S. soybean crop will be one of the most variable years we’ve seen as a result of adverse weather conditions occurring from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. While most of the U.S. experienced a wet, late spring, the southeast and southwest regions suffered severe drought during late summer. Drought impacts across the U.S. varied greatly. The Upper Midwest appears the least affected by drought, but incurred many drowned-out areas in soybean fields. Although the future weather conditions are expected to be fair in the Upper Midwest, there is always the potential for a killing frost to harm the latest-maturing soybeans.
The soybeans on plants killed prematurely by heat and/or drought, drown-out or frost will typically contain normal levels of protein and oil. This is because those two components are added to the soybean throughout the seed’s size-increase stages. However, those soybeans can remain green in color post-harvest due to the limited time for the normal seed-ripening process to break down the chlorophyll within the beans via its metabolism.
Experienced soybean processors know that protein and oil levels are normal in green soybeans, but some processors, especially overseas, are unwilling to purchase soybeans that bear a significant fraction of green soybeans knowing that they can impart an undesirable green tint to the soybean oil. While that green tint can be removed through extra processing, it is more expensive for the processor to do so.
U.S. commodity soybeans are classified as “Yellow Soybeans,” and receive an official grade in accordance with the U.S. Grain Standards Act prior to their export. According to the Official U.S. Standards for Grain:
- Soybean plants killed late in the seed-filling process with only green seed coats should be classified as “Yellow Soybeans” and not docked in price. The green color will typically disappear during proper storage. Due to the low relative humidity and low temperatures during storage in the Upper Midwest, that is the inevitable result.
- Soybeans killed during early-to-mid-seed fill that are green throughout >90 percent of the bean’s cross-section must be classified as “soybeans of other color.” If a given shipment contains more than 10 percent of “soybeans of other color,” it is docked because the color is unlikely to disappear during storage. One potential alternative for these soybeans that a farmer in the South should consider would adding them to their cattle feed rations.
If that decision is made, the farmer can harvest the lowest/wettest portions of his soybean fields separately, leaving those areas alone during main harvest. Then, return later to harvest those green and water-damaged soybeans separately to maximize their price.