Demand for U.S. soy depends in part on meeting the nutritional needs of animals and people. That’s because those two groups are the biggest end users of U.S. soybean meal and oil, respectively.
The work of the soy checkoff to help U.S. soybean farmers continue to meet those nutritional needs never stops. The checkoff works with the poultry, swine and other animal ag sectors to show that U.S. meal provides the best nutritional bundle of amino acids and other constituents.
It also works with end users in the food industry to provide nutritional solutions to their products. Plus, consumer influencers are engaged to debunk myths about soyfoods and to demonstrate that the use of soybean oil in food is part of a balanced diet.
Continuous improvement is important, too, so the checkoff supports research to make U.S. soy better suited to meet customer needs and add more value for farmers.
Quality-conscious customers look for new kind of quality
For years, customers measured U.S. soybean meal value by crude protein. However, according to checkoff farmer-leader Bob Metz, it’s the availability of highly digestible amino acids in U.S. soybean meal that sets it apart.
Metz says customers are becoming increasingly quality- and value-conscious. He adds that the checkoff has increased their awareness of the different kinds of value that U.S. soybean meal offers.
“We’ve proven year in and year out that U.S. soybeans have high digestible amino acids,” says Metz, a farmer from Peever, South Dakota. “Pigs and chickens get a whole lot more from soybean meal than they do from many other feed ingredients. We need to continue to prove that to our customers.”
Amino Acids: The soybean’s secret weapon for animal feed
Soybean meal contains several beneficial constituents for use in poultry and livestock feed, but amino acids top the list.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and they’re required for a variety of functions in an animal. Essential amino acids are those that the animal is unable to produce in adequate quantities and must be supplied in the feed. Limiting essential amino acids, such as lysine, methionine, threonine and tryptophan, are those most likely to be deficient in diets when a given set of feed ingredients is used.
Amino acids can be compared to a barrel built with planks of different lengths. Just as the barrel will only hold as much water as the shortest plank will allow, feed will only benefit an animal as much as the most limiting of the amino acids will allow.
An overabundance of amino acids won’t do the animal any good and could cause environmental issues, so researchers focus on lifting the level of the shortest board, or most limiting amino acid.
A perfectly balanced diet means less feed, energy and amino acids are lost to the environment, which benefits people, animals and the planet.
Soybean meal has an amino-acid profile that balances well with corn in animal diets. For an animal nutritionist formulating a feed ration, amino acids are a key consideration.
Soybean oil a valuable food option with beneficial fats
U.S. soybean oil has played an important role for the food industry for decades. The edible oil usage in the United States exceeds 25 billion pounds, so maintaining positive perceptions of soybean oil is essential. Today, nearly 12 billion pounds of soybean oil is consumed annually.
However many food manufacturing processes required the oil to be partially hydrogenated to increase its stability. Research has found that partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) contain dangerous trans fats, so over the past decade they have been nearly eliminated from the market.
The need for a higher-stability soybean oil with nutritional benefits such as being free of trans fats resulted in the development of the high oleic soybean. The oil from this soybean provides that stable oil demanded by the food industry and is expected to capture more than 2 billion pounds of the edible oil market by 2024 that was lost due to PHO issues. In addition to avoiding trans fats, high oleic soybean oil has lower saturated fat than competitors such as palm oil.
While fats are often stigmatized as being “bad” or “unhealthy,” they are universally considered to be an important part of a balanced diet because humans need certain fats to maintain optimum health. There are differences between the types of fats in terms of both nutrition and functionality.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: Soybean oil really shines when it comes to polyunsaturated fatty acids, and in particular, the essential fatty acids that are required for normal body functions. Both the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid and the essential omega-6 polyunsaturated fat linoleic acid are found in soybean oil. Soybean oil is one of the few non-fish sources of omega-3s, and it is also one of the most concentrated sources of omega-6s. Polyunsaturated fats also help reduce LDL cholesterol, or what’s referred to as “bad cholesterol,” levels and may lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Monounsaturated Fats: Soybean oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels in your blood, and in turn, can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Saturated Fats: Soybean oil is low in saturated fats, which is good because a higher intake of saturated fats is associated with higher blood levels of total cholesterol, including LDL, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and replacing them with monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Correcting consumer myths helps keep soyfood demand high
Consumers have abundant choices when it comes to what to eat. There’s no shortage of food information – and misinformation – available to consumers, including a particularly difficult myth that says soyfoods cause breast cancer.
“Soy’s link to breast cancer is probably the No. 1 myth surrounding soyfoods,” says Joy Blakeslee, a registered dietitian specializing in soy. “This myth is persistent, even among health professionals.”
The checkoff works with dieticians, nurse practitioners and others to provide them with factual, science-based information so that they can provide their clients with the truth.
“The work with nurse practitioners and physician assistants is so important,” Blakeslee says. “We are able to provide them with science-based references that they can take back to their patients.”
This outreach is particularly important because it reaches individuals considered to be influencers over consumer opinion.
According to research, the outreach is working – the checkoff’s Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition survey shows consumers have a strong opinion of U.S. soy’s nutritional profile. Among the findings of the most recent study, more than three out of every four Americans consider soyfoods to be healthy.
Checkoff farmer-leader Annie Dee says the checkoff’s work with these influencers is critical to farmers’ bottom lines.
“If we don’t emphasize how important our products are, then we are going to lose our market share,” says Dee, an Aliceville, Alabama farmer. “We can’t just sit back and let another commodity from another country take our place at the table.”
Four opportunities to add more value
Checkoff farmer-leaders are working across the value chain to identify new ways of adding value for U.S. soybean farmers through nutrition. The checkoff supports research efforts to improve quality and composition, including these four projects:
- Carbohydrate content: Purdue University is working to modify the carbohydrate composition in soybean meal, which could lead to improved animal performance and gut health.
- Improved composition: Soybean breeders from seven states are researching the development of high-yielding soybean cultivars that produce soybeans with higher protein content and improved amino acid composition.
- Precision genomics: Using state-of-the-art methods, the University of Minnesota is targeting the seed-composition traits involved in seed oil and protein development.
- More oil, more protein: The United Soybean Board’s Value Task Force continues to explore the possibility of adding more oil to the soybean by reducing insoluble carbohydrates. This will result in less meal content in each soybean, but a higher percentage of protein in that meal.