Discover how the high-quality soy produced right here in the United States helps one fish farmer, one community and many others around the world.
While soybean harvest in the United States is nearly complete with beans either in the bin or hauled to local elevators for storage and moved by rail or barge, they are destined for something great.
Their final destination is perhaps as varied as the number of soybean varieties planted in the state. Some will be used as animal feed for local pork producers, some will be processed as soyfoods and distributed to markets around the world and some will be used as aquafeeds and distributed to fish farmers.
While global aquaculture production is dominated by Asia at 89%, aquaculture plays a critical role in local economies and serves as a source of nutrition for locals from Africa to Latin America. While Africa’s overall aquaculture production is relatively low at 2.7% of world production, it has seen a 20-fold increase from the 1990s to 2018. And in the Americas, Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico account for more than 80% of regional volume, contributing significantly to food security, employment and foreign currency generation, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Let’s go to Mexico’s state of Michoacán (just west of Mexico City) where Manuel Sarmiento is the co-owner of Truchas Sustentables, a local fish farm and processing company.
“It all started with trout,” Sarmiento explained. “We were looking at alternatives to cutting down the trees here. About three or four years ago, we started a fish processing facility to add value to our own business and to make our trout products more accessible to the average person.”
Today, Truchas Sustenables produces about 20 tons of trout annually, according to Álvaro de Tomás, one of the company’s production managers. The company’s products can be found in stores such as City Market, H-E-B., Soriana, MeatMe and AquaMart.
“The trout you find in City Market was literally taken out of the water and processed yesterday, and you are eating it today at City Market,” de Tomás said. “That is how fast the process is. Our product is 100% natural, and we are selling everything we produce.”
Their product portfolio includes cold and hot smoked trout and trout paté. De Tomás said they are also about to launch Vizcaina trout, made with a red sauce of pureed onions and choricero pepper.
“We’ve found that people prefer our packaged products — they are already filleted and boneless — rather than picking the bones out of the fish on their plates,” added Sarmiento, who relies on U.S. soy as a food source for the trout.
He shared that U.S. Soy is a BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) certified sustainable protein source. BPA, a part of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, ensures aquaculture is done responsibly through a third-party certificate program that focuses on four areas of sustainability: environmental, social, food safety and animal health and welfare.
“Truchas Sustenables has BAP certifications, and today we have a 98-score in Costco audits, our main customer,” Sarmiento shared. “The BAP certification is a system in which we assure sustainability throughout our entire system from breeding, gutting, slicing and packing, to loading.”
De Tomás added that all the fish they process today is domestically grown.
Tremendous Growth Potential
From 2000 to 2017, aquaculture production in Mexico increased from 59,434 tons to 268,200 tons, achieving a 9% annual growth rate, according to FAO.
During that same time, the country’s population saw a 3.8% growth rate, increasing from more than 98 million people to more than 124 million people. That number is expected to reach 141 million by 2030.
While Mexico’s aquaculture producers grow enough fish to meet the demand of its growing population through 2030, FAO estimates that supplies would be insufficient if per capita fish consumption increased to the world average, 19.9 kg or about 43 pounds.
Carlos Salinas, who serves as regional director of the Americas for the U.S. Soybean Export Council, reported that U.S. Soy has the highest market share among countries between Mexico and Colombia, primarily due to proximity and the logistical infrastructure in place to move products in and out of Mexico.
Because the U.S. already commands near 100% of the market share when it comes to soy imports, Salinas said the goal needs to be centered around expanding consumption.
“Expanding consumption would directly translate to increased demand for U.S. Soy,” he said. “With fish feed, rations can be as high as 50% soybean meal, and expanding consumption of farm-raised fish would mean more demand for U.S. Soy.”
In 2020, demand for aquafeed in Mexico was targeted at 439,000 tons, according to the National Council of Manufacturers of Balanced Feeds and Animal Nutrition. With an inclusion rate of soybeans at 25%, that’s 120,000 tons. Salinas added that because U.S. Soy has earned 93% of the market share, that’s 112,000 tons going right now solely to aquafeeds in Mexico.
FAO researchers believe that given Mexico’s land area, inland water surface area, coastline length, renewal water resources and population, its aquaculture industry has tremendous growth potential.
Cargill also took notice of this growth potential back in 2014, investing $7.8 million in its 60,000-ton fish feed plant in Tehuácan, the second largest city in the state of Puebla. The expansion brought improved performance and enhanced quality for the feed, not to mention is was able to supply 5,000 tons more feed each month to aquafarms.
Additionally, Vimifos, a company owned by ADM, also built a new plant in Villahermosa, Tabasco for the production of aquaculture feeds, which has improved the supply of southeastern Mexico. Aquaculture development in this region has gained strength over the past few years, providing better service to this market.
Sustainability Starts on the Farm
While Truchas Sustenables is proud of its BAP certifications and audit scores, it all starts right here on the farm.
“For generations, we’ve been practicing sustainability for our own benefit, but what we’re learning is that sustainability doesn’t stop at the farm gate,” said United Soybean Board (USB) director Meagan Kaiser, who is a fifth generation soybean grower in Missouri. “It’s really just the very beginning of the value chain, and if everyone at every stage of the process works to be more efficient with their inputs, we can create big change.”
Kaiser and her husband Marc are really focused on using data and technology to make the best decisions, whether it’s seed choice, soil sampling, or fertility and trying to improve the soil structure and biological activity.
“While we are covering thousands of acres, we are really managing each acre individually; today we have a better handle on how each acre performs and what it needs to improve,” she said.
As an example, the Kaisers are doing some on-farm research, testing copper’s connection to better stalk strength for both corn and soybeans.
“We wanted to see if our fields could benefit from it,” she explained. “It’s not easy to apply in a small area, but we put out a 10-acre plot to see if it made a difference and if there’s the potential for us to use it on more acres for an improved crop.”
Kaiser added that farmers are forever scientists – researching, trialing evaluating and adjusting.
“U.S. farmers do a great job of growing and producing food, and ‘sustainability’ on the farm is not a one-size fits all approach,” she said. “It’s a process of continuous improvement, and we’ve got a great story to tell.”
Sustainability is very much a domino effect.
Kaiser said the past few years have been tough on U.S. farmers, between weather events and trade disputes.
“One of the things that’s kept us motivated on our farm is that sense of contributing to the broader good,” she said. “When you hear about what’s happening in trade news, you don’t always think about the people … but it’s really farmers helping farmers, worldwide.
“Our farmers here in the U.S. are providing a high-quality product that can not only be used as a feed source for other producers — fish or livestock — but adds to their sustainability story because of our practices.”
And in the Michoacán region, Truchas Sustentables is making a difference.
“There are several trout farms in the area,” said de Tomás. “Before we started Truchas Sustentables, they struggled to secure customers. Now, securing customers and having a market is the easy part.”
Today, Sarmiento, the crew at Truchas Sustentables and the local trout farmers aren’t clearing the land. They’re now able to spend time and resources not only defending the local forests but also working to reforest it.