May 12, 2005 | By: Terri McLean
LEXINGTON, Ky.

When it comes to the U.S. soybean market, China has long been this country’s No. 1 buyer. That could change, however, as China – the world’s most populous country - inches closer to developing its own agricultural biotechnologies and meeting its goal of becoming self-sufficient in food production.

The impact of such a dramatic development is at the center of a research effort led by Mary Marchant, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and funded by a $302,000 National Research Initiative Competitive Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Marchant and UK are working with fellow researchers at the University of Missouri and the USDA’s Economic Research Service on the widely hailed three-year project.

“I hope we’re going to be able to help the competitiveness of the U.S. soybean industry, which has historically provided 30 percent of U.S. farm income,” Marchant said.

Marchant’s research specifically will look at China’s development of genetically modified soybeans. If China chooses to commercialize GM soybeans, it may displace U.S. exports to China and impact competitiveness, Marchant said.

This research will also focus on Chinese consumers’ acceptance of GM soybeans. If, like their counterparts in Europe, Japan and South Korea, Chinese consumers don’t readily accept GM soybeans, any GM soybeans produced in China could end up on the global market, creating increased competition for the United States. On the other hand, this scenario could create new market opportunities for non-GM soybean exports from the United States to China.

“The overriding issue of all this is that whichever way they (China) go, pro-biotech or anti-biotech, because of the large market size of 1.3 billion people, it’s going to have a global impact on U.S. exports,” Marchant said.

The impact will also be felt in Kentucky, Marchant said, where soybeans are one of the top agricultural commodities. In 2003, soybeans brought in more than $305 million in cash receipts, fifth behind horses, cattle and calves, broiler chickens and tobacco, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service.

“One of the unique aspects of this research is that we integrate all sides – producer, consumer, agribusinesses throughout the supply chain – with, ultimately, the overriding goal of finding out the trade impacts of soybean exports to China,” Marchant said.

Results of the national study will be widely distributed throughout the United States and Kentucky, Marchant said. 

“I hope the answers to our research questions will enable soybean producers, exporters and agribusinesses to tailor their products to encourage exports and expand markets for their products,” she said.

Contact: 

Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Mary Marchant, 859-257-7260