Tools of the Trade: soybean quality vs. composition

May 24, 2018 / Categories: Uncategorized

Written by David Kee, MN Soybean director of research and Kim Nill, MN Soybean director of market development.

Along with my colleague, Kim Nill, I’ve been following the debate on soybean quality. The nerd in me kicks in and my frustration begins to show. In my humble opinion, soybean producers should divorce quality and eliminate the term from their vocabulary.

Why? Well, first, a soybean producer does not control the definition of “quality.” Quality is subjective. It can be high, it can be low, but there is not a number associated with quality. Quality and its designation (high or low) changes with the end user. A high quality soybean for a beef cow (i.e., highest in N content) will be a mediocre, at best, soybean for a piglet, or a trout ration.

The fact is, as a soybean producer, you would have an impossible task of producing a high quality product for all of our clients. Their needs and their idea of quality changes dramatically with the final use of the product. Honestly, quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Quality can stir the imagination. Quality can be emotional. However, since we cannot consistently define quality, why are we pursuing the quality goal? Don Quixote makes for a romantic character, but charging windmills makes for frustrating work. My imagination might enjoy pursuing a fantasy, but my belly likes to be full. At the end of the day, the quality of a product is more of an opinion than it is a fact.

What can we do? Well, we can measure composition. We can change our inputs, adjust our management and modify the composition of our product. Composition is a cold, hard fact: brick solid, dependable, unemotional.

Composition – be it amino acid levels, oleic oil levels, crude fiber, etc. – is something produced and something measurable. It is a goal that is attainable. As a grower, you would know if you hit the desired mark before the product leaves your farm. Composition is something you can define and control.

With composition analysis, one can communicate the contents of the product (soybeans) to a wide variety of consumers, and help your client determine if that soybean product fulfills the client’s desires and needs. You, the soybean grower, can be honest and factual.

According to Nill, soybean growers do have another action. The year 2018 happens to be one of the years in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally asks the U.S. soybean producer organizations if they want soybean-grading criteria to be changed within the federal standards utilized by USDA inspectors to issue grades for virtually all U.S. soybean export shipments.

USDA will be forced to change the maximum FM (foreign material) criteria for Grade #2 soybeans to <1 percent FM because of its recent <1 percent FM agreement with China’s government. USDA will be forced to change some of the weed seeds allowed in Grade #4 because of 2018 implementation of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act. U.S. soybean producers could, if they want, request that a new Grade #5 be established for the above-detailed high N content soybeans, that a Grade #6 be established for high oleic soybeans, etc.

As we continue the debate, I suggest you ask yourself which position is more comfortable for you: being factual or being opinionated? Which one results in less drama?

It may be a lot less interesting, but management for composition is an attainable goal. Composition does not change because the client changed. Quality, on the other hand, will always be in the eye of the beholder.

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