At a time when people around the world are eating more meat, poultry and dairy products than ever before, American farmers may be losing ground to Brazil in the race to feed all those animals.
U.S. exports of feed crops already were expected to drop this year as producers in South America and Europe expand sales. But after some lousy weather in the Midwest this year, the harvest yielded soybeans with less protein, a key ingredient that helps build muscle in animals. At 34.1 percent per bushel, the protein content was tied for 2008 as the lowest since it was first measured in 1986, government data show.
While U.S. exporters often have to contend with Brazilian soy that is higher in protein — at around 37 percent — the widening quality gap could mean further erosion of demand from places like China, the world’s biggest buyer. Brazil’s shippers are trying to exploit the difference to sell more from last season’s record crop and to take advantage of expansions of export capacity, including new ports in northern parts of the country.
“Brazilian soybeans are getting a quality premium,” Sergio Mendes, general director at Brazil’s grain exporter group Anec, said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo. ”
Higher-protein Brazilian soybeans usually command a premium of about 15 cents a bushel over U.S. supplies, Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co. in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. On the Chicago Board of Trade, soybean futures closed Tuesday at $9.705 a bushel.
Soybeans have become an essential global food crop because they are crushed to extract vegetable oil and then the remaining soy meal is fed to livestock. Brazil’s share of the export market is expected to rise to a record 43 percent this season as the U.S. share falls to 39.7 percent — even as global demand rises for a ninth year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Supplies from Brazil — doubled in 15 years — are becoming more attractive to some importers. The country supplanted the U.S. as the world’s largest exporter in 2013, and purchases this year are rising at a record pace. Shipments will reach 67 million metric tons this season, according Anec, the country’s grain-exporter group. That’s far above the initial estimate of 60 million tons and 33 percent more than in 2016, when exports totaled 50.5 million tons.
Chinese soybean imports are up 15 percent in the first 11 months of 2017, the government reported Tuesday. Half of those purchases were from Brazil at 49 million tons, up 29 percent from a year earlier, with 26.7 million tons from the U.S., up 2.3 percent.