In the past four decades, the development of best practices supported by federal and state regulation, voluntary participation, and robust national record-keeping have dramatically reduced the carbon footprint, land use, water use, and energy use of U.S. soybean production per bushel.
Capturing progress and participation by the nation’s producers, the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) employs a third party-audited mass-balance1 approach and facilitates issuance of shipment-specific records of sustainability by exporters. The SSAP was created and maintained by Soy Export Sustainability LLC, with engagement from the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), a multi-stakeholder organization committed to promoting market access for export of U.S. soybeans to worldwide markets, with a reach of over 80 countries.
Percent Reduction, 1980-2020
|Land Use: Planted Acres Per Bushel||0.0371||0.0197||47%|
|Water Use: Acre Inches Per Bushel||1.0839||0.4194||61%|
|Energy Use: BTU Per Bushel||72,726||40,035||45%|
|GHG Emissions: Pounds of CO2e Per Bushel||13.6||7.9||42%|
|Soil Erosion: Tons of Soil Loss Per Acre||7.4||4.8||35%|
Source: Field to Market (2021)
The SSAP describes the regulations, processes, and management practices that ensure sustainable soy production and includes continuous improvement goals that draw metrics from the Field to Market National Indicators Report. Provided in their 2021 report, Field to Market measured environmental outcomes from on-farm production in the United States across major field crops including soybeans.
Progress in the sustainability of U.S. soybean production is measured by Field to Market in terms of land use, water use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil erosion. Since 1980, soybeans in the United States, on average, use 47% less acres per bushel, 61% less water acre inches per bushel and 45% less BTU per bushel of energy. Greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion have been reduced by 42% and 35% in terms of pounds of CO2e and tons of soil erosion per bushel, respectively.
The U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP)
The SSAP is organized into four directives comprising 11 impact categories. The SSAP framework aligns with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), positioning the U.S.-based protocol with international consensus on sustainability.
1. Biodiversity and High Carbon Stock Production Control Measures and Regulations
1.1 Land Use, Sensitive Habitats, and Biodiversity
2. Production Practices Control Measures and Regulations
2.1 Soil Health & Productivity
2.2 Crop Health & Agricultural Best Management Practices
2.3 Waste & Pollution
2.4 Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Fossil Fuel Use, & Air Quality
3. Public and Labor Health and Welfare Control Measures and Regulations
3.1 Water Quality & Quantity
3.2 Plant Protection & Nutrient Management
3.3 Working Conditions & Labor Relations
3.4 Worker & Public Safety
3.5 Community Relations
4. Continuous Improvement of Production Practices and Environmental Protection Control Measures and Regulations
4.1 Continuous Improvement
Directives and impact categories include both compliance criteria and aspirational goals. Compliance criteria are subject to audit and are regulated by national entities such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because soybean production is subject to federal law, noncompliance with mandated sustainability practices is discoverable via national supervision and precludes inclusion in USDA benefit programs as well as financial penalties. Adherence to the SSAP is calculated in conjunction with annual audits of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the USDA Farm Service Agency. More than 90% of U.S. soybean producers participate in the U.S. Farm Program and are thus subject to audit.
Aspirational goals, conversely, fall outside of federal or local law and position compliant producers within the global goals of sustainability. For example, within the Land Use, Sensitive Habitats, and Biodiversity impact category, U.S. soybean farmers are required to respect and obey federal, state, and local laws in the area of land use, sensitive habitats and biodiversity including the U.S. Endangered Species Act, Federal Migratory Bird Treaty, Highly Erodible Lands Conservation and Wetland Conservation provisions, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. These compliance criteria contribute to the aspirational goal of habitat conservation under the impact category.
The protocol’s final directive, Continuous Improvement, lays the groundwork for the next decades’ progress in sustainability, guiding producers to continue to adopt and support the development of innovations that improve both crop production and stewardship of the land.
Soy Export Sustainability, LLC, and shipment certification
Adherence to the SSAP is evaluated by Soy Export Sustainability, LLC, (SES) to provide shipment-specific records of SSAP-compliant soy, including GMO, non-GMO, and organic status. Working with the mass-balance approach, SES determines on an annual basis the total share of U.S. soy in compliance with the SSAP by evaluating acreage and yield. Compliance is recorded in a database administered by SES and a unique certificate is recorded and produced for each protocol-compliant shipment of soy.
Records are firm-specific and searchable by a unique identifier. In order to receive a certificate of compliance, a shipper or exporter intending to transport certified soy must register as a user of SSAP, establish a shipper-specific and secure record on the database, and document shipment-specific information including volume and date of shipment. Each shipment will then carry an SES attestation that the specific batch of soy follows a mass balance accounting method chain of custody from a volume of SSAP-compliant soy verified by the authorized audit body.
At present, more than two-thirds of U.S. soybeans for export carry a SES-issued record of sustainability, with that share approaching 100% among exports to the European Union.
The U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) employs an aggregate approach audited by third parties that verifies sustainable soy production at a national scale. The U.S. approach is quantifiable and results-driven with mass balance international verification available. The SSAP captures the progress and evolution of soybean production in the United States and for 87 years, Soybean futures have reflected that evolving and progressing industry. Learn more at www.cmegroup.com/soybeans.
- “Mass balance is a sourcing method that allows for certified and non-certified ingredients to become mixed during the shipping and manufacturing processes”; Rainforest Alliance, ‘What is Mass Balance Sourcing’, https://bit.ly/3AW2uH5
All examples in this report are hypothetical interpretations of situations and are used for explanation purposes only. The views in this report reflect solely those of the author and not necessarily those of CME Group or its affiliated institutions. This report and the information herein should not be considered investment advice or the results of actual market experience.