Iowa Soybean Association Chief Executive Officer

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Pounding the pavement

June 1, 2023 | Kirk Leeds

Nearly every conversation about the market and profit potential of growing soybeans includes two questions: “What if China significantly decreases its purchases of U.S. soy?” and “What are we going to do with all the soybean meal as crush expands for the renewable diesel market?”

Time spent in Egypt and Morocco helps provide answers.

In March, an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) trade mission led by President Randy Miller and President-Elect Suzanne Shirbroun included stops in Cairo, Marrakech and Casablanca. We conversed with farmers, farm association reps, feed manufacturers, University of Cairo ag faculty and business leaders. We also toured aquaculture facilities, feed mills and poultry, fish and dairy demonstration farms.

Egypt and Morocco, with a combined population of nearly 150 million, are important destinations for U.S. soy (we currently enjoy more than an 80% market share in both countries). Urbanization is occurring at a fast pace, creating additional demand for dairy, chicken, eggs, turkey and fish. The populations of both countries trend younger, with a desire to eat healthier and more conveniently. Aquafeed mills are adding capacity, with an eye on exporting the product throughout Africa as farm-raised fish and shrimp production intensifies.

These trends bode well for Iowa soybean farmers. Soybean meal is an essential ingredient for commercial feed. As U.S. crush increases to produce oil for renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, more soybean meal must be exported. Countries like Egypt and Morocco are ideal options as both prefer U.S. soy because of its quality and reliable availability.

Expanding our portfolio of trading partners and volumes also reduces our reliance on China. While China’s appetite for soy will always lead the world, moving product elsewhere is beneficial to the interests of U.S. soybean farmers, especially as tensions escalate between the world’s two leading economies.

While Egypt and Morocco are struggling economically, our presence there matters. We must continue reassuring them that U.S. soybean farmers are committed to being their supplier of choice and, in countries like Egypt, training farmers on how using soy enhances feed efficiencies and sustainability.

On a personal note, I traveled to Egypt and Morocco with preconceived notions about their people and the Islamic faith. My knowledge and understanding grew infinitely during the two-week trade visit. I learned about the importance of family and religion to their identity and daily living. We saw firsthand the economic hardships caused by the strength of the U.S. dollar (and subsequent devaluation of the Egyptian pound) and the loss of corn and wheat imports due to Russia’s war with Ukraine. And we were reminded of their desire for peace, modernizing their farms and food systems, and improving their standard of living.

Pounding the pavement and maintaining a long view of potential markets for U.S. soy are strengths of the soybean checkoff. The hard work will continue to enhance the competitiveness of Iowa soybean farmers and improve the lives of people of Egypt, Morocco and beyond.