WHILE most producers and grain handlers expected the drought of 2012 to create challenging conditions for corn quality, the record-setting heat and dryness may have caused more issues for soybean processors.
One Iowa State University expert told a recent gathering of grain industry professionals that protein and extraction levels from 2012 soybeans are much poorer than normal.
"We got some results from the drought conditions that I think no one really expected, including yield data, which turned in at higher numbers than most anybody would have expected given the amount of rainfall between June and September," Iowa State professor Charles Hurburgh, director of the Iowa Grain Quality Laboratory and the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, told attendees at the National Grain & Feed Assn.'s annual Country Elevator Conference in Omaha, Neb.
Producers and handlers largely -- and accurately -- expected that dry weather would produce smaller soybeans and pods that contained only one or two beans. Later-maturing soybeans may have filled those pods a little better than expected due to timely rains in September, but by and large, Hurburgh said Iowa producers saw fewer and smaller beans per pod.
For processors and end users, however, the biggest challenges with this soybean crop go well beyond yield and production.
The soybeans have a lower protein content than usual, "and we will be working with low-protein soybeans for the remainder of this year," Hurburgh said, adding that, "from a feed perspective, soybean meal proteins will probably be a little bit on the low side as well. You can't make high-protein soybean meal at 47.5% and up out of 33% and 34% (protein) soybeans. It just isn't going to happen."
Additionally, the weather conditions produced beans that will cause processor headaches during crushing. The dry conditions resulted in a larger-than-normal percentage of "shrinkled" soybeans -- an official qualitative criterion developed in 1988 that refers to wrinkled, misshapen beans.
Shrinkled soybeans don't differ materially from a use perspective in terms of oil and protein values, but shrinkled beans do complicate oil extraction greatly.
"These beans don't extract well, and as a result, the residual oil in the soybean meal and the fiber in the soybean meal we're already seeing have a tendency to go up," Hurburgh explained. "Particularly in poultry nutrition, we don't like fiber."
He estimated that the residual oil content could be up to 1.5% greater than that of non-shrinkled soybeans, with the fiber content being up to 4% higher.
Hurburgh reported data from four separate Iowa State strip trial test plots featuring 20-40 hybrids per location in Adair, Black Hawk, Bremer and Palo Alto counties of Iowa.
"This past year, we had the highest oil content in soybeans that we'd seen, which, from a processing perspective, partially offsets the protein issue," he explained.
Looking at processing margins, if soybeans have 20% more oil content and protein levels are off as little as 0.5%, there might still be an advantage to processors from this year's crop.
"The revenue from the oil will offset the issues on the protein side," Hurburgh concluded.