Soybean is the common name for the annual leguminous plant and its seed. The soybean is a member of the oilseed family and is not considered a grain. The soybean seeds are contained in pods and are nearly spherical in shape. The seeds are usually light yellow in color. The seeds contain 20% oil and 40% protein. Soybeans were an ancient food crop in China, Japan, and Korea and were only introduced to the U.S. in the early 1800s. Today, soybeans are the second largest crop produced in the U.S. behind corn. Soybean production in the U.S. is concentrated in the Midwest and the lower Mississippi Valley. Soybean crops in the U.S. are planted in May or June and are harvested in autumn. Soybean plants usually reach maturity 100-150 days after planting depending on growing conditions.
Soybeans are used to produce a wide variety of food products. The key value of soybeans lies in the relatively high protein content, which makes it an excellent source of protein without many of the negative factors of animal meat. Popular soy-based food products include whole soybeans (roasted for snacks or used in sauces, stews and soups), soy oil for cooking and baking, soy flour, protein concentrates, isolated soy protein (which contains up to 92% protein), soy milk and baby formula (as an alternative to dairy products), soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy nut butter, soy sprouts, tofu and tofu products (soybean curd), soy sauce (which is produced by a fermentation process), and meat alternatives (hamburgers, breakfast sausage, etc).
The primary market for soybean futures is at the CME Group. The CME's soybean contract calls for the delivery of 5,000 bushels of No. 2 yellow soybeans (at contract par), No. 1 yellow soybeans (at 6 cents per bushel above the contract price), or No. 3 yellow soybeans (at a 6 cents under the contract price). Soybean futures are also traded at exchanges in Brazil, Argentina, China, and Tokyo.
Prices - CME soybean futures prices (Barchart.com electronic symbol ZS) moved higher the first half of 2014 and posted the high for the year at $15.37 a bushel in May 2014, a 1-1/2 year high. Soybeans were supported by strong demand, tight U.S. supplies, and drought concerns in South America. U.S. soybean quarterly stocks on March 1, 2014 dropped to a 10-year low of 992.3 million bushels. In addition, the USDA in the May 2014 WASDE report raised its U.S. 2013/14 soybean export estimate to a record 1.6 billion bushels (+21% yr/yr), and forecast that 2014/15 U.S. soybean exports would climb to a new record of 1.625 billion bushels. The USDA also cut its global 2013/14 soybean production estimate to 283.79 MMT from 287.69 MMT due to drought in South America. Robust Chinese demand was supportive for soybean prices as China imported 28 MMT of U.S. soybeans from Sep 1, 2013 to Apr 24, 2014, up +33% yr/yr. China soybean imports in 2013 had previously climbed +8.6% yr/yr to a record 63.4 MMT. Soybeans plummeted into Q4 and posted the low for the year in October at $9.04 a bushel, a 5-year low. Exceptional weather led to ideal growing conditions as the USDA's Weekly Crop Progress showed that 72% of the U.S. soybean crop was in good-to-excellent condition as of Sep 7, up +20 points yr/yr and the best condition in 30 years. This led the USDA in the October WASDE report to raise its 2014/15 U.S. soybean production estimate to a record 3.927 billion bushels and raise its 21014/15 global soybean production estimate to a record 311.2 MMT. Supplies were also abundant after the USDA forecast U.S. 2014/15 soybean ending stocks at 450 million bushels, an 8-year high, and projected 2014/15 global soybean ending stocks at a record 90.67 MMT. The plunge in prices enticed foreign demand for U.S. supplies as U.S. October 2014 soybean exports rose to a record 9.2 MMT. This helped soybean prices recover into year-end, but they still finished 2014 down -22.4% at $10.19 a bushel.
Supply - World soybean production during the 2014-15 marketing year (Sep-Aug) rose by +10.8% yr/yr to 314.369 million metric tons. World soybean production has risen sharply from the 62 million metric ton level seen in 1980. The world's largest soybean producers were the U.S. with 34.5% of world production in 2014-15, Brazil (30.4%), Argentina (17.5%), China (3.8%), and India (3.3%). China's soybean production has roughly doubled since 1980. Brazil's production has risen just over four times since 1980.
U.S. soybean production in 2014-15 rose by +18.2% yr/yr to 3.968 billion bushels, a new record high. U.S. farmers harvested 83.061 million acres of soybeans in 2014-15, which rose +8.9% yr/yr, a new record high. The average yield in 2014-15 was up +8.6% yr/yr to 47.8 bushels per acre, a new record high. U.S. ending stocks for the 2014-15 marketing year fell by -34.6% to 92.0 million bushels.
Demand - Total U.S. distribution in 2014-15 rose +5.1% to 3.655 billion bushels. The distribution tables for U.S. soybeans for the 2014-15 marketing year show that 48.7% of U.S. soybean usage went for crushing into soybean oil and meal, 48.2% for exports, and 3.2% for seed and residual. The quantity of U.S. soybeans that went for crushing rose +2.7% yr/yr in 2014-15 to 1.780 billion bushels. The world soybean crush rose +5.1% yr/yr in 2014-15 to a new record high of 252.528 million metric tons, which was about double the level seen in 1993-94.
Trade - World exports of soybeans in 2014-15 rose +3.2% yr/yr to a new record high of 116.487 million metric tons. The world's largest soybean exporters in 2014-15 were the U.S. with 41.4% of world exports, Brazil with 39.5% of world exports, and Argentina with 6.9% of world exports. U.S. soybean exports in 2014-15 rose +7.5% yr/yr to a 48.172 million metric tons, a new record high. Brazil's soybean exports have more than doubled in the past decade and Canada's exports have almost tripled.
World imports in 2014-15 rose +2.2% yr/yr to a new record high of 112.988 million metric tons. The world's largest importers of soybeans in 2014-15 were China with 65.5% of world imports, the European Union with 11.3%, Mexico with 3.5%, and Japan with 2.6%. China's imports in 2014-15 rose +5.2% yr/yr to a record level of 74.000 million metric tons, which is far from negligible levels prior to 1994.
Articles from the Commodity Research Bureau (CRB) Commodity Yearbook. The single most comprehensive source of commodity and futures market information available, the Yearbook is the book of record of the Commodity Research Bureau, which is, in turn, the organization of record for the commodity industry itself. Its sources - reports from governments, private industries, and trade and industrial associations - are authoritative, and its historical scope is second to none. Additional information can be found at www.crbyearbook.com.