Soy rules in Latin America as China, Europe call
By Alexandre Peyrille, AFPBUENOS AIRES -- In row after neat row, lush green plants cover the fertile plains of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay — soybeans destined for hungry markets in China and Europe.
September 18, 2013, 12:11 am TWN
The green fever stems from this: soy is a great, cheap source of protein. And the stuff is here to stay. Cows make more milk when they are fed soybean meal, for instance.
The Chinese go after soybean sprouts, which they then turn into oil or meal, while Europe wants the meal directly, for use as feed for poultry, cattle and pigs.
Prices have quadrupled over the past dozen years or so, making the Brazil-Argentina-Paraguay region the world's soy powerhouse. Their harvest in 2013 was at an all time high.
Brazil alone produced 81 million tons this year, matching that of the soybean pioneer, the United States, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The last U.S. soybean harvest was hit by drought.
“The benefit is that soy has the same nutritional value as meat but it is a vegetable. Per hectare, it is the cheapest protein to produce,” said Marc-Henry Andre, author of a book entitled “Argentina, Brazil: the El Dorado of Agrobusiness.”
At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, thanks to burgeoning demand soy prices have shot from US$100 a ton in early 2000 to more than US$500 now, said Argentine economist Luciano Cohan.
China imported 60 million tons of soybean sprouts in the 2012/2013 season and plans to take another 70 million in 2013/2014.
The soy is genetically modified but no one objects “because the benefits for the State are such that this is seen as a positive technology,” Cohan said.
“Soy now has a central role in agriculture. A cow fed with soy clearly produces more milk than one fed with hay,” said French agronomist Marcel Mazoyer.
Conservation groups are not thrilled, however.
They worry about cattle raising and wheat growing being neglected as farmers jump on the soy bandwagon.
Other problems are deforestation, aerial fumigation with pesticides and pollution of groundwater, they say.
Beekeepers are buzzing too: they say their insects are being denied flowers for making honey as agriculture grows obsessed with the green leaves of soy.