Canada’s soybean industry small, but nimble

SOY Canada sees opportunities to expand soybeans in the West

Soy Canada says the Prairies are the country’s growth region for soybeans.

Glacier FarmMedia – Canadian soybeans have a lot going for them, says Brian Innes.

They fit well into crop rotations, are suited to the warmer weather coming with climate change, produce protein ideal for people and animals, a healthy oil and the world is demanding more of them, SOY Canada’s new executive director told its seventh annual meeting held via ZOOM June 22.

There are lots of challenges too, but’s why SOY Canada, which represents farmers, seed companies, processors and exporters, exists, Innes said.

“As a small player in the global market, being different can easily be seen as being inferior if we don’t spend time as a (soybean) value chain to co-ordinate,” Innes told the meeting. “I see us being active in connecting the dots so that we can align our supply with the value our customer sees, sharing information so we’re getting the most value possible for our crop in Western Canada.”

In contrast to Canada’s five million acres of soybeans this year, Brazil, the world’s largest producer, is estimated to have 141 million acres with the United States not far behind.

Skeptics say soybeans sell themselves, so who needs SOY Canada?

Some also note soybeans need moisture to yield well, and often that’s lacking in Western Canada.

“But the way I see it these are the exact things that make the work we do at Soy Canada important,” Innes said. “… when you are small you can be nimbler and capture opportunities that bigger players can’t.”

“Even though people may know soybeans, they may not know what our food-grade varieties can do to make great soy milk, or they may not know our sustainability advantage, or how to get northern beans to best fit into a feed ration.”

He also noted excess moisture events are common and soybeans fare well during them.

“ There are other organizations but I don’t see another organization that creates a space to link the soybean customer to the soybean supply chain,” he said.

Where there’s either an opportunity to help Canadian soybeans, SOY Canada will be there, Innes said.

“We’ll be focused on what’s valuable to our customers and working together to deliver it. And most importantly, we will do all of this in close collaboration with other agri-food organizations recognizing that the livelihoods of our seed companies, of our producers, of our exporters and processors, depend on more than one oilseed. I am really excited about the potential for our crop in Canada and what we can do together. As such a young organization our future is still being written.”

One Canadian advantage is its food-grade soybeans.

“We need to stay on top to have a clear message to our customers about how our soybeans meet their quality needs, including increasing questions about how we grow our beans sustainably,” he said. “We can’t rest on our laurels.”

Innes said the crop’s greatest growth potential is in Western Canada.

“As a relative newcomer we’ve had some challenges getting consistent protein, but we are on a path to increase it and there is lots of research being done,” he said.

A good year in 2020

2020 was a good year for Canadian soybean production, SOY Canada chair and Dauphin farmer Ernie Sirski told the meeting.

“A record average yield (46.3 bushels an acre) across Canada helped producers fill their bins and stronger global prices recently have the sector rebounding from difficult years that we’ve had in Canada,” he said. “Our quality was stable and exports continued to be diversified.”

Domestic soybean production was up last year to 6.4 million tonnes, following two years of contraction, including a drop in plantings to 5.1 million acres last year.

“Despite continued dry conditions in Western Canada, average yields increased to the third-highest yield ever recorded in Western Canada,” Sirski said. “An average of 35.6 bushels an acre resulted in production of 1.2 million tonnes.”

Most western Canadian production was in Manitoba last year, with 1.04 million insured soybean acres, according to crop insurance records.

Insured Manitoba average yields of 38 bushels an acre resulted in production of almost 1.08 million tonnes or 90 per cent of western Canadian production.

Manitoba soybean yields were 12 per cent higher than the 10-year average of 34 bushels an acre.

Canadian soybean protein levels were stable at 38.1 per cent, Sirski said, citing Canadian Grain Commission figures. Food-grade soybean content of 41.7 grams per 100 grams of dry matter was similar to 2019.

There were fewer soybeans processed domestically in 2020, but seed exports of 4.3 million tonnes were up slightly.

Canada exported soybeans to 63 countries with the top five accounting for 48 per cent of it.

“Our exports to China, the world’s largest soybean importer, continued to be challenged by political tensions that began in December of 2018,” Sirski said.”

Canada’s top five soybean buyers in 2020 were Iran China, Italy, Bangladesh and Japan.

Promoting sustainability

SOY Canada played one of three videos it has produced to promote Canadian soybeans.

“Canada is well known for its vast forests, clean air and pristine rivers and lakes,” the video says. “It’s only natural that Canada’s soybean industry is committed to sustainable production that preserves our air, water and soil for generations to come. Through sustainable farming production, we’ve grown production significantly without a dramatic increase in farmland. Instead, we have increased the productivity of each acre.”

The video says between 1971 and 2016 Canadian soybean yields increased 57 per cent while total area farmed in Canada declined six per cent.

“Our soybeans are taking carbon dioxide from the air, nitrogen from the soil and turning it into high-quality protein and oil,” the video says.

“Between 1981 and 2011 Canadian soybean farmers have increased yield by 32 per cent while using 26 per cent less energy and reducing our greenhouse gas footprint by 17 per cent per soybean. Canada’s soybean industry is committed to sustainability.”

SOY Canada had a net earning of $133,286 in 2020, up from $83,887 in 2019, its financial statement shows.

Most of SOY Canada’s 2020 revenue — $505,855 — came from memberships, including 76 per cent from farmers and 12 per cent each from seed companies and processors.

In a recorded address, federal agriculture minister Marie Claude Bibeau praised the soybean industry for boosting exports despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our government’s strong trade agenda will continue to help you grow those sales,” she said.

The federal government’s fuel standard will increase demand for soyoil in biodiesel, while Ottawa’s investment in Protein Industries Canada will grow demand for food and feed from soybeans, Bibeau said

“You have a great story to tell and we need to work together to tell that story to the world.”

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator. His article appeared in the July 1, 2021 issue.

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