Northern Soy Marketing (NSM) knows that in a competitive marketplace, quality is vital. For feed companies, securing quality inputs – like soybean meal (SBM) – is what gives them a leg up.

Born with the goal of making critical amino acid value (CAAV) the standard for assessing protein quality, NSM took its messaging to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Jan. 6-13. NSM leaders met with feed mill executives, purchasers and nutritionists to explain the superior quality of U.S. soybeans and soybean meal.

“Before I get too old, I would love to see the day that soybean meal is bought and sold based on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) analysis,” said Bob Swick, a poultry nutrition consultant who joined NSM in Vietnam. “Eventually, I hope people find value based on the digestible amino acids, not just protein, fat and fiber. And the quality of the soybean meal starts with the whole bean.”

With more than 90 percent of U.S. soybeans produced being used as a high-quality protein source for animal feed, animal agriculture is the soybean industry’s largest customer. In fact, 97% of U.S. SBM goes to feed livestock and poultry. While in Vietnam, NSM’s delegation clarified why the CAAV measurement – the sum of five critical essential amino acids of lysine, threonine, tryptophan, cysteine and methionine – is more relevant than crude protein measurements.

“When we measure protein, we’re talking about the amount of nitrogen in that crop,” said University of Minnesota soybean researcher Seth Naeve, who joined the group in Vietnam. “That’s simply an indicator of the amount of amino acids that the animal can utilize.”

CAAV allows buyers to evaluate the natural balance and gross levels of limiting essential amino acids in the soybeans or soybean meal, as well as provides a threshold where the probability of increased performance is likely, and the addition of costly synthetic amino acids can be minimized.

“Remember, we’re feeding our animals proteins so that they can ingest essential, available amino acids,” Naeve said. “The problem is that we measure nitrogen as an indicator of protein while protein is an indicator for the total amino acids and the total amino acids is an indicator for the amount of essential amino acids.”

Protein isn’t the only benefit SBM provides in an animal diet.

“SBM supplies about 25 percent of the energy in broiler diets and also in pig diets,” Swick said. “We normally think that SBM is protein, but it also supplies some energy, which is related to the residual oil content.”

However, buyers must pay a premium price to acquire quality U.S. soy. NSM had some good news to share with purchasers during its one-on-one meetings with feed mills and “Understanding U.S. Soy Quality Seminar,” which was held in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

“In the U.S., we have a very strong demand for soybean oil, driven by the renewable fuel and sustainable aviation fuel industry,” said NSM Chair Patrick O’Leary, who farms in Benson, Minn. “So, we are going to have an increased supply of soybean meal, and we’ll need to double our SBM export market. Meaning, high-quality U.S. SBM will be available at competitive prices.”

The group visited Dabaco, which specializes in animal feed, poultry breeding and food processing, as well as Vinh Hoan/Feed One, an aquaculture company that produces 350,000 tons of aqua feed every year. Eugene Goering, an NSM director who farms near Columbus, Neb., joined O’Leary as the two soybean grower representatives in Vietnam, and spent some time talking about his operation.

“As farmers, the land is our greatest asset,” Goering said. “So, we take steps to be as sustainable in our production as possible, whether that be during planting, spraying or harvest. These practices are another reason that northern-grown soy is a step above the rest.”

Throughout the week, the message to the Vietnamese was the same – buy U.S. soy.

“The five state soybean checkoff boards that comprise NSM – Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin – produce roughly 25-28 percent of the total soy production in the U.S.,” O’Leary said. “Though our beans may have slightly lower crude protein content compared to other countries, they have a better amino acid profile and low foreign material. They’re some of the best quality soybeans in the world.”