2021 Brings New Opportunities for U.S. Soy

By Jim Sutter

U.S. Soybean Export Council CEO Jim Sutter reflects on the challenges of 2020 and the opportunities served up in 2021 for the U.S. Soy industry.

2020 – What a year! During what many view as one of the most challenging years on record, U.S. Soy showed its adeptness and ability to pivot. U.S. Soy has seen and been part of a tremendous shift.

At this time last year, a Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal was just signed; however, not much was actually being exported. U.S. soybean ending stocks were projected at 475 million bushels and the price forecast for 2019/20 was $9/bushel. COVID-19 quickly overshadowed trade disagreements, deeply affecting and taking the lives of many. Additionally, the global pandemic challenged supply chains and completely shut down travel.

The U.S. soy industry used this challenge as an opportunity to not just maintain our connections with customers and existing buyers of U.S. Soy; we have actually expanded our reach and connected with prospects that we may otherwise not have reached through in-person events.

Since March of last year, USSEC has hosted more than 308 events with 39,896 participants from 78 countries. In doing so, we’ve learned a great deal about how to host and organize virtual conferences, which will allow us to be more efficient and effective in our marketing when we do meet with customers in-person again. Having that insight and visibility into companies and organizations helps us better understand their needs and challenges. With that said, I very much look forward to returning to in-person events and talking with our customers face-to-face. In the interim, we will see the ramp up of hybrid events.

Supply and Demand Shifts

2020 also served up a dramatic shift in the global and U.S. supply and demand situation. We’ve seen a significant shift in the global soy complex. In its January World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected U.S. soybean ending stocks at just 140 million bushels. In a matter of months, we’ve gone from a “move the pile” mentality to talks of potential rationing.

Today’s soybean prices are the highest since 2014, giving our growers reason for optimism. On the other hand, these prices are challenging for buyers of U.S. Soy. Our Dare to Compare campaign helps to showcase the true value of U.S. Soy, encouraging buyers to dig into the data and research.

While this supply-and-demand shift can be attributed to a number of factors, China is a big part of the story. Its recovery from African Swine Fever (ASF) was faster than expected, creating strong demand.

As China remains a key buyer of U.S. Soy, we continue to work and repair what has been a strained trade relationship. Meanwhile, we recognize the importance of diversification and continue to invest in emerging markets.

The first Soy Excellence Center (SEC) was launched in Egypt in September 2019. The goal of SECs is to have them become a one-stop-shop for industry – providing training, resources, and education to all members of the soy value chain. Additional SECs are being planned in Nigeria, Southeast Asia, and the Americas.

In India, the Right to Protein campaign has taken off. This campaign is a new concept – the country has no education around dietary guidelines – as they think about the importance of protein. This campaign has reached more than 5 million Indians, highlighting how USSEC provides education and knowledge transfer as it works to build demand.

What’s on the Horizon?

In 2021, we aim to disrupt how soymeal is valued when it comes to aquaculture and animal nutrition; promote the reliability and restore the halo of U.S soyfoods; finalize the soy oil calculator; and further build up the story of U.S. Soy sustainability.

Sustainability is the crown jewel of U.S. Soy and will be woven into everything we do. It’s cross-cutting and increasingly important.

In late February/early March, the U.S. soyfood value chain will launch a new database with variety-specific information to showcase the quality, variety attributes and geographic diversity. The database will further support sales of U.S. Soy.

Additionally, we just launched the Soy-Suite, which brings together businessmen and women, policymakers, leaders, and those who want to pursue a better understanding of the soy value chain and the broader agricultural industry to engage in conversations and dialogue with world-class leaders on important issues, events and happenings.

There’s plenty to look forward to this year. This week, we are hosting Ag Supply Chain Asia (Jan. 26-28). We’ll also have other similar large regional events throughout the year. For Commodity Classic, we will host a learning session, “Working to Get the Global Animal Feed Industry to Change How It Values Soy Protein.” And our team is already at work on the 2021 U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange & Specialty Grains Conference.

In closing, 2020 certainly reiterated the importance of a strong team. We are very fortunate to have support from every link of the soy value chain from our growers to our members and industry partners. To all of you, I offer a heartfelt thank you for being an integral part of the U.S. soy community. As we move into the second month of 2021, I hope this finds you all safe and healthy.