Big corn and soybean crops are good news for hog producers as these two grains remain the main ingredients in pig diets, and these feedstuffs should be economical.

Kevin.Schulz, senior content specialist

August 29, 2016

12 Min Read
Cheap corn, soybeans play well into hogs’ needs
<p>Though price fluctuations will allow other feedstuffs to creep into hogs&rsquo; diets, corn and soybeans are still the kings for top performing pigs.</p>

USDA estimates that corn and soybean farmers will be seeing record-sized crops of both commodities this fall, leading to what the agency also predicts as lower prices producers will receive for their grains.

In USDA’s Crop Production released Aug. 12, corn production is forecast at 15.2 billion bushels, up 11% from last year. Based on conditions as of Aug. 1, yields are expected to average 175.1 bushels per acre, up 6.7 bushels from 2015. If realized, this will be the highest yield and production on record for the United States. Soybean production is forecast at a record 4.06 billion bushels, up 3% from last year. Based on Aug. 1 conditions, yields are expected to average a record 48.9 bushels per acre, up 0.9 bushel from last year.

With those big crops, the USDA is also predicting that corn will have an average gate price of $3.15 per bushel, down from $3.60 for the current marketing year ending on Aug. 31. Soybeans’ cash price is estimated at $9.10 per bushel, down from $9.50 a bushel estimated in July.

All this adds up to good news for hog producers as corn and soybeans, in the form of soybean meal, remain the main ingredients in pig diets, and these feedstuffs should be economical.

Hans Stein, University of Illinois animal science professor, has overseen many research projects looking at alternative feedstuffs, “but nobody goes away from corn and soybean meal unless they can save money.”

Research done by Stein’s team at the University of Illinois has studied nutritional variances in soybean meal; ensuring producers are getting the most benefit for their swine herds.

In one such project, Stein’s team was concerned, and sought to find, if soybeans produced in various parts of the country resulted in variances of the nutritional value of soybean meal.

“It is well documented that soybeans grown in northern growing areas of Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, those soybeans contain less crude protein compared to soybeans grown further south in say Illinois, Indiana and Ohio,” he says. The first question the Stein team set out to answer was if the lower crude protein values translated to impacting the soybean meal quality. “We wanted to determine concentrations of nutrients and digestibility of amino acids, phosphorous and energy, in soybean meal that we had sourced from various regions of the United States.”

Maybe surprising, Steins says, was the finding that in terms of amino acids digestibility and concentration of digestible amino acids, there was very little difference. “So whether you buy your soybean meal from Minnesota, or Iowa or Ohio, there is very little impact on the concentration of digestible amino acids in that meal, which in many ways I guess it makes it easier to formulate diets,” he says. “If you buy U.S. soybean meal, you know what you get.”

Stein clarifies his surprise by these findings by saying that the knowledge of crude protein variances from north to south in the United States, “we thought that there would be differences in the soybean meal as well, but there are so few differences that you wouldn’t consider important.” The reason, Stein says, is that the majority of the extra protein in the soybeans from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois is made up of amino acids that are not essential to pigs. “When you look at the essential and dispensable amino acids, there is really very little difference between the different sources of the soybeans.”

Stein says phosphorous digestibility, as well as the effects of adding phytase to soybean meal showed no differences regardless of where in the United States the soybean meal originated from.

In addition to soybean meal having similar nutritional values regardless of where it is produced in the United States, recently completed research at the University of Illinois finds that U.S. soybean meal is top-notch when compared to other countries of origin.

Researchers compared amino acid digestibility in soybean meal produced in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, China and India, collecting five sources of soybean meal from each country. Though Stein admits confirmation of U.S. soybean meal’s superiority may not necessarily be a benefit to U.S. hog producers “because U.S. hog producers use U.S. soybean meal,” these findings are important in the global marketplace.

“For the soybean industry who is exporting soybeans and soybean meal all over the world, and compete with soybean meal from these other countries, for those people it is very important,” he says. This research was funded by support from the U.S. soybean associations. “What we found is that there is nothing out there that competes with U.S. soybean meal … U.S. soybean meal was significantly better in amino acid digestibility when compared with soybean meal from Argentina and India in particular, and to some degree better than Brazilian soybean meal.”

As mentioned before, Stein-led researchers have studied various feed ingredients, oilseeds and protein sources. And through all those studies, one thing that remains clear is that you cannot beat soybean meal.

“Of all the protein sources we work with, there is far less variability with amino acid concentration and amino acid digestibility in soybean meal compared to any other protein ingredient you can get your hands on,” he says. Though not talked about much, Stein sees uniformity as key in formulating diets for pigs. “That becomes very important that the feed you get delivered into the bin has a composition that is close to what you have in your formulation. So you know what you’re getting.” Stein says that uniformity does not yet exist with the other protein ingredients.

U.S. soybean meal’s uniformity is a valuable component to the hog producer’s feed equation in the event that soybean meal may be pricing itself out of an economical diet. “There is value in knowing what you’re actually producing, because if you get a feed ingredient into the formulation that contains less nutrients that you thought it would, that means that you’re producing a finished feed that contains less nutrients, and that means you are short-changing your pigs a little bit, so that will cost you.”

Not for the young
Though soybean meal is a suitable source of protein for hogs, there are issues that the ingredient may present for younger pigs, say pigs under 40 pounds.

Anti-nutritional factors in soybean meal fed to young pigs have forced producers to look at other — mostly animal-based — protein sources for the young pig diets. Fish meal, milk proteins or poultry meal are some protein sources that Stein says are being used in young pigs’ diets.

However, over the last 10 years there have been strong developments that are increasing the use of soybean meal in the formulations for your pigs. “That soybean meal is being processed in such a way that the anti-nutritional factors are being eliminated,” he says, “this means that you can use soybean meal that is being processed in this certain way in little pigs’ diets.”

Steins says to be suitable for young pigs, this soybean meal is put through a fermentation process or enzyme treatment that breaks down the anti-nutritional factors in the soybean meal. The problem is there are only a few companies currently using these processes.

Fishmeal, that has historically been the protein source of choice for feeding young pigs, is a depleting supply. “World is running out of fishmeal,” Stein says, “There are fewer fish to be caught, and therefore we have less fishmeal, and the production of aqua feed is growing very quickly and some of the farmed fish that we raise require fishmeal because they are carnivores. So whatever fishmeal we have left goes to the aqua feed industry.”

Stein predicts that in five to 10 years you will see all the diets for young pigs will be formulated using this further processed soybean meal. He also predicts you will see animal proteins leaving swine diets, with the exception of plasma protein for the very early weaning diet.

Crushers getting it right
Stein credits the U.S. soy processing industry for the uniformity of a quality soybean meal product. “U.S. soybean crushers do a phenomenal job processing soybean meal, because they have very good quality control. That you don’t always see in other countries,” Stein says. “It helps that the industry is concentrated with large companies operating the crushing facilities because these companies have engineered their plants to produce a high-quality product. If you had a fragmented industry with small companies without as much expertise, it might be much more difficult to have that consistency in the final product.” He feels that may be why some sources of soybean meal from other countries lags in quality and consistency compared to U.S. soybean meal.

The down side to an industry headlined by four big processors is that “it is difficult for the large processors to produce specialty products” such as the aforementioned fermented soybean meal for younger pigs. “But to produce large amounts of high-quality product, our industry is second to none.”

A growth market Stein sees will be new companies working to produce newer types of soybean meal for younger pigs, and “some of the excitement is that there will be more demand for that product. … Our job here is to guide some of those new companies to improve their products. I think that will continue for a long time.”

Increase in energy
Stein’s studies have shown that nutritional values of soybean meal produced across the country are fairly equal, and that U.S. soybean meal reigns supreme above soybean meal from other countries, but are we still giving soybean meal the credit it truly deserves?

The short answer, Stein says, is no.

A University of Illinois study used 23 different sources of soybean meal obtained from crushing plants in four zones in the United States. Michigan, Minnesota and South Dakota comprised Zone 1; Georgia, Indiana and Ohio made up Zone 2; Zone 3 was Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, and Zone 4 was Illinois. “This was maybe the largest analysis ever done in the world.”

Concentrations of digestible energy, metabolizable energy, and net energy were the same for soybean meal from Zones 1, 2, and 4, but soybean meal from Zone 3 contained less DE, ME and NE than soybean meal from Zones 1 and 2. Results indicate that soybean meal produced in the United States – regardless of growing area – provides more energy to pigs than what is indicated in current feed composition tables, including values published in the most recent tables from the National Research Council.

“Book values may be from soybean meal produced 20, 30, 40 years ago, so genetics of soybeans could have changed, but it’s also possible those book values were based on very few samples that had been analyzed,” thus the reason for the extensive sources tested.

The bottom line is that soybean meal produced in the United States contains at least 200 kcal more DE, ME and NE than indicated by current book values. “If you get 10% more energy out of your soybean meal, that makes that soybean meal more attractive in formulations so you can actually formulate diets that are less expensive,” he says.

On the corn side of the pig diet, Stein’s lab has done more work with the corn coproducts — DDGS, DDG, corn gluten meal, corn germ meal — of the corn wet and dry milling industry, than with corn grain itself. However, a recent study looked at the effect that corn particle size has on energy uptake by the pigs, amino acid digestibility, as well as the digestibility of phosphorous and starch.

For this study, the same batch of corn was ground to four different particle sizes — average particle size of 865, 677, 485 and 339 microns — and fed to growing pigs. Results demonstrated that particle size does not influence the digestibility of amino acids or phosphorous, but it does influence starch digestibility, “so the finer you grind the corn, the greater the digestibility of starch. The more digestible the starch is, the more glucose can be absorbed by the pigs,” Stein says. “Therefore they get more energy out of it,a and as a consequence, the concentration of digestible energy in corn grain increases as particle size is reduced.”

Though the main reason for using corn grain in the diet for the energy pigs get out of it, the downside is the finer you grind the corn, the greater the risk that your pigs can get some intestinal inflammation and ulcers which is to be avoided, of course. Stein says that presents a question producers have to ask themselves for what fits their farm. He acknowledges there may be some genetic components of the pigs themselves, “but it may also be tied to what else is in the diet. If you have high fiber in the diet, you may be able to grind your corn finer than if you only have a corn-soybean diet.”

This fall’s harvest appears to be stacking up to provide a plentiful, and economical, supply of corn grain and soybean meal for hog producers to lower their inputs. Hogs aren’t the only consumers of corn grain, as ethanol plants also like cheap corn, and “producers of ethanol will continue to produce ethanol, and they are benefiting from low corn prices so the plants will continue to run, and they will continue to produce DDGS. We will get 40 million tons of DDGS, and that will need to be moved and they will be forced to price the DDGS so that it will try to get into the rations, even if corn gets down to $2.50 to $3, Stein says.

With that in mind, hog producers need to remember they are feeding their pigs to perform their best. “Nobody goes away from corn and soybean meal unless they can save money. That’s not going to change,” Stein says. “Other ingredients aren’t used to improve the performance of the pigs; they are included in the diets to save costs for the producer. We hope we can maintain the same performance, but we reduce the cost. Producers need to keep that in mind as they use wheat middlings or DDGS.”

About the Author(s)


senior content specialist, National Hog Farmer

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