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Declining Protein Levels Causing Loss of Chinese Market for U.S. Soybean Growers

On top of global bumper harvests and multi-year low prices, U.S. soybean growers are being hit on the global market by another factor - protein content.

Brazil is gaining global soybean market share away from the U.S., due to declining protein levels in U.S. beans. Ten years ago the U.S. provided China with 38 percent of its soybeans while Brazil provided 34 percent. Today Brazil supplies 57 percent of China’s soybean imports compared to 31 percent for the U.S.

Soybeans are a $41 billion industry for the U.S., however over the years biotech advances have focused on ever higher yields at the cost of protein content. In the short-term, U.S. farmers can make up for the lower protein with higher volumes of production, but in the longer-term, falling protein levels pose a serious threat to U.S. growers, especially in China.

The leading seed developers have been successful in breeding soybeans that are high yielding, resistant to herbicides, are drought tolerant, or can be grown in marginal climates, but breeding for higher protein content has been an elusive target.

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