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WOW – World’s Largest Food-Purchase in One Day

Touch the Soil News #194

Most of us would not use soybeans in a typical meal. However, we will eat meat most every day from animals fed soybeans. So, to make the point, soybeans are a foundation of modern diets.

Now, in one day – September 24, 2015 – Chinese officials (visiting Iowa – signed 24 contracts to buy U.S. soybeans worth $5.3 billion. Now that’s what we can call a grocery shopping record. In actual volume, these contracts call for buying 13.2 million metric tonnes of U.S. soybeans (a metric tonne is 2,205 lbs.). China will use these soybeans primarily to feed livestock and poultry. In number crunching terms, here is what that means:

  1. A volume of soybeans equivalent to 91 lbs. of soybeans for every person in the U.S.
  2. 485 million bushels of soybeans or roughly 12 percent of total U.S. annual soybean production.
  3. It would take 10.3 million acres of farmland and water to raise this amount of soybeans.
  4. 10.3 million acres is equivalent to a farm 10 miles wide and 1,610 miles long.

A field of soybeans. The USDA estimates that in 2015, America will harvest 84.4 million acres of soybeans - more acres than corn, wheat, or hay.

In total, China needs to buy 79 million metric tonnes of soybeans from wherever it can this year to meet its needs. This purchase from the U.S. only represents on 17 percent of its import need. To put 79 million metric tonnes of soybeans into number-crunching perspective, here is what it means:

 

  1. A volume of soybeans equivalent to 535 lbs. of soybeans for every person in the U.S.
  2. 2,853 million bushels of soybeans or roughly 71 percent of the total U.S. annual soybean production.
  3. It would take 60.6 million acres of farmland and water to raise this amount of soybeans.
  4. 60.6 million acres is equivalent to a farm 10 miles wide and 9,500 miles long.

 

The U.S. prides itself in being the breadbasket of the world. However, there lies a risk in embracing that vision. Farming is essentially the practice of mining soils and finite water resources. In conjunction with trying to keep American agriculture afloat economically, to what extent will the nation set limits on the unsustainable consumption of its water and land resources?

The following Info-Graphic #1 illustrates the trajectory of China’s soybean imports.

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