LINCOLN, Neb. – While ranchers and livestock producers across Nebraska celebrated Gov. Pete Ricketts’ recent “Meat on the Menu Day" for obvious reasons, another agricultural industry was on the same exultant page this past weekend.

“The number one customer of soybean is animal agriculture,” said Nebraska Soybean Board Treasurer Anne Meis “We’ll join right along with Gov. Ricketts for ‘Meat on the Menu.’”

According to the U.S. Soybean Board, 80% of the country’s soybeans are used as meal, with the other 20% being used as oil. Of the country’s soybean meal, 97% is used for animal feed, while the remaining 3% is used in human food products such a soy milk and protein alternatives.

“One thing about Nebraska is we do have a diverse agriculture,” Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said Monday at a press conference recognizing National Agriculture Week in Nebraska. “We appreciate the opportunity that consumers have to make their own choices. We’ll produce it and the consumers can make the decisions on what they consume.”

“We support all forms of protein,” Meis said. “Different regions of the world will have a preference.”

While soybean meal carries the public-facing banner for soybean producers, Meis says there is a lot more to the plant than meets the eye.

“We are finding many new uses for the oil,” Meis said. “We are always working to promote renewable fuel in the way of biodiesel. If we can continue to not only find that market for our meal, but also for our oil, in the food grade or the renewable fuels industry, that of course adds value to every soybean.”

Meis, who operates a soybean farm southeast of Elgin, also said soybean oil is being used in emerging technologies, including new forms of asphalt that last longer in extreme weather conditions found in the Midwest.

Over 60% of Nebraska’s soybeans are exported into an international market, which Meis said has created its own challenges during the pandemic as travel has been restricted.

“Trade missions are a vital part of promoting our product here in the United States,” Meis said. “Any time that we can’t go meet the buyer, shake their hand, build that personal relationship, it may – we hope it doesn’t – hinder that. We’ve been very inventive like every industry.”

Meis said members of the soybean industry in Nebraska are on early-morning Zoom calls weekly, speaking with potential buyers in countries ranging from Malaysia to the Philippines.

“As everyone has experienced in this pandemic, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting with a handshake,” Meis said.