This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
It is hard to imagine that a small seed like the soybean could be so important. But it is a big export crop for many countries. At the same time, soybeans are in great demand. We may think of wheat and corn as the most valuable crops. Of course, they remain very important. But in many ways, the soybean is even more valuable.
The soybean is high in protein and carbohydrates. Its fat can be made into oil. Soybeans are used to make food for people and farm animals. Per hectare of land, the soybean can produce ten times more protein than beef cattle. These are some of the reasons why soybeans have become one of the three major crops.
The United States Department of Agriculture studies the world's crop production. It released a report in February. The report provides information that goes back more than twenty years. It also estimates what world markets will be like up to two-thousand-twelve.
The report says that the use of soybeans has increased for more than twenty years. The amount of exported soybeans is about equal to wheat. Corn remains the biggest export crop. But, soybean prices remain about two times as high as those of wheat and corn.
Soybean prices have remained strong in America because crop surpluses are never very great. In the mid-nineteen-eighties, corn and wheat surpluses were extremely large. Prices dropped sharply. Today, soybean surpluses are as small as they have ever been in relation to the amount used.
Yet, world competition is strong. In years past, soybeans from the United States filled the world market. Today, Argentina and Brazil have equaled the United States in soybean exports. The European Union and China are major importers.
The Department of Agriculture expects South American production to continue to grow. It expects Brazil to become the world's biggest soybean exporter in a few years. This is because Brazil is increasing the amount of land used for crops at a high rate.
Some experts worry that soybeans may not remain a competitive crop for the United States. They think that American farmers may begin to import soybean products to feed their animals. This new competition also could drive prices lower. Yet, the government estimates that demand in the United States will continue to increase -- protecting prices. With expanding markets everywhere, the little soybean is a big part of the world agricultural market.
This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.