ISA Newsroom

Agricultural news farmers want to know.

Prospecting for future international soybean customers

Article cover photo
A large crowd visits the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar on Sunday. This week representatives from the Iowa Soybean Association, Nebraska Soybean Board and Kansas Soybean Commission are participating in a trade mission to discover new markets for U.S. soybeans. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Joseph L. Murphy, ISA Senior Communications Manager

During the California Gold Rush prospectors sifted, rinsed and repeated in hopes of discovering gold. In business today, prospecting is the art of identifying potential customers.

But whether you are prospecting for business or precious metals, it’s the first step on the road to success. A group of Midwest soybean associations are hoping that a prospecting trade mission in Southeast Asia this week will help them strike gold when it comes to building demand for U.S. soy.

Representatives from the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), Kansas Soybean Commission and Nebraska Soybean Board, with the help of Mishek Incorporated, hope to add Myanmar and Malaysia to a list of emerging countries that could help whittle down abundant U.S. soybean supplies.

“We’re prospectors right now,” Peter Mishek, a consultant with the ISA, said. “We are digging and gathering information. We’re like gold prospectors. It is like landing on the moon. It is uncharted territory and we have to figure out what is going on to build a market profile.” 

Exploring Emerging Markets: Myanmar and Malaysia
Exploring Emerging Markets: Myanmar and Malaysia

Myanmar imported 389,610 metric tons (MT) of soybean meal in 2017 and about 450,000 MT in 2018. Due to high domestic prices of raw feed in Myanmar in 2017/18, imports of soybean meal and DDGS from the United States sharply increased. Myanmar imported about 91,088 MT of U.S. soybean meal and 36,836 MT of U.S. corn DDGS in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service grain report.

There are more than 20 livestock feed concentrate and feed ingredient importers in Myanmar. Some feed millers import products themselves and some purchase through local importers.

Soybean associations met with De Heus Myanmar, a feed production company serving the poultry, swine and cattle industries. De Heus is a Netherlands-based company founded in 1911. It established operations its feed production operations in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2016. Because of demand, the company built a second plant in Myanmar two years later. Growing demand for feed means more imports of soybean meal as well. Both facilities are expected to produce about 300,000 MT of feed this year.

Myanmar’s total feed demand is likely to increase by 15 percent from the previous year and could reach 3.9 MMT in 2020, according to the 2018 USDA grain report.

Myanmar, which dates back to 11,000 BC, borders China, Thailand, Bangladesh, Laos and North East India. Recently the country emerged from a closed economy that resembled North Korea’s. From the 90’s forward the country has been slowly opening up to foreign investments in the country.

 “The prospects for the country are quite good,” Mishek said “They have 53 million people and they have the feed potential for 15 to 20 million people. The prognosis is in the neighborhood of five to eight percent per year for the next four or five years. You would be hard-pressed to find anywhere on the globe with a market with that kind of potential for growth.”

Kenlon Johannes, the Administrator of the Kansas Soybean Commission, participated in the meetings with De Heus earlier this week while visiting Yangon, Myanmar. Johannes has more than 30 years of experience in participating in international trade missions to help build demand for soybeans grown in his home state of Kansas.

“I was impressed. Peter called it prospecting and prospecting it is,” Johannes said. “We are seeking out areas where we have not gone. We are finding the markets, but you have to work hard to develop them. That’s what I’ve learned from this trip.”

When he returns to the U.S., he said he’ll be an advocate for building markets there.

“I think it is going to pay off here,” Johannes said. “But you have to take it step by step, be patient, really do the homework and be service-orientated to get these markets.”

The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and state soybean associations like ISA have been turning over every stone searching for new markets to sell an overabundance of soybeans sitting on the world market. To do that USSEC has classified markets into four categories: immature, basic, expansion or mature groups.

Countries like Myanmar, Egypt, India and Sri Lanka are classified in the basic category.

“Basic markets can provide the highest return,” USSEC CEO Jim Sutter said during Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year. “If all of the countries we have in the basic category increase their market share to just 50 percent, total demand would be twice the size of the entire U.S. soybean crop.”

By 2021 USSEC is planning to shift 40 percent of their investments into basic markets, according to Sutter.

The trade mission also held meetings with Sunjln, Crystal Diamond Livestock, Japfa and Green Field International while visiting Myanmar. Look for more information on the Myanmar and Malaysia meetings in future stories.

Katie Johnson, ISA public relation manager, contributed to this story.
Contact Joseph L. Murphy at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

Top StoriesArchive

Myanmar companies jockey for business in a fast-growing environment

Action on ag policies critical to rural livelihood, Iowa soybean farmer testifies

Recent NewsArchive

Podcast Series See more

Podcast Library Graphic