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The Systems Approach for U.S. Soybeans Exported to China

The Need for a Systems Approach

In 2016, China put in place a new grain import law to keep invasive weeds and other plant pests from entering their country. In 2017, they informed USDA that U.S. grain shipments, particularly soybeans, did not comply with the new law. They specifically cited increased detections of weed seeds. These weed seeds threaten U.S. access to China’s soybean market.

Soybeans are critical to the U.S. economy. Approximately 1 of every 3 bushels of U.S. soybean are shipped to China, making it the United States’ largest market for this commodity. In 2017, this export was valued at $12.4 billion, which is approximately 91% by value of all U.S. grains shipped to China.

The Systems Approach

The systems approach is a suite of recommended best practices that can help reduce weed seeds in soybeans on farm, at U.S. grain elevators, and at the point of export. APHIS worked with U.S. industry groups, other USDA agencies, and academia to develop the approach, which includes recommendations for integrated weed management, harvesting, and handling.  It also includes USDA and industry monitoring of foreign material and weed seed content in soybeans at grain and export elevators. APHIS and China’s national plant protection organization will evaluate the effectiveness of the systems approach in 2 years.

The systems approach is voluntary. APHIS encourages producers, handlers, and exporters to consider using those best practices that are appropriate for their geographic area and their farm or business operation.

Weeds of Concern

In 2017, China reported detecting 36 different species of weed seeds in U.S. soybean shipments. Nearly 80 percent of those weed seeds came from 4 common weeds: ragweed, cocklebur, Johnsongrass, and pigweed. The complete list includes:

  • Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
  • Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)
  • Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense)
  • Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium)
  • Cocklebur (Xanthium sp.)
  • Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri)
  • Sorghum-almum (Sorghum almum)
  • Spiny cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum)
  • Waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus)
  • Southern sandbur (Cenchrus echinatus)
  • Toothed spurge (Euphorbia dentata)
  • Marshelder (Cyclachaena xanthiifolia)
  • Field sandbur (Cenchrus spinifex)
  • Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense)
  • Dune sandbur (Cenchrus tribuloides)
  • Sterile oat (Avena sterilis)
  • Ripgut brome (Bromus diandrus var. rigidus)
  • Showy crotalaria (Crotalaria spectabilis)
  • Western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya)
  • Longspine sandbur (Cenchrus longispinus)
  • Turnipweed (Rapistrum rugosum)
  • Buffalobur (Solanum rostratum)
  • Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.)
  • Sandbur (Cenchrus sp.)
  • Turkeyberry (Solanum torvum)
  • Darnel ryegrass (Lolium temulentum)
  • Puncturevine (Tribulus pentandrus)
  • Three-cornered jack (Rumex hypogaeus)
  • Prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola)
  • Dodder (Cuscuta sp.)
  • Goatgrass (Aegilops taushcii or A. triuncialis)
  • Silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium)
  • Jointed goatgrass (Aegilops cylindrica)
  • Chinese dodder (Cuscuta chinensis)
  • Broadleaf false carrot (Turgenia latifolia)
  • Spurge (Euphorbia sp.)

How You Can Help

Producers, handlers, and exporters can take specific actions, based on their role in the supply chain, to reduce weed seeds in U.S. soybean exports. The systems approach provides a suite of recommended best practices for use on farm, at grain elevators, and at the point of export. Everyone along the supply chain is encouraged to consider and use those best practices that are appropriate for their geographic area and their farm or business operation.

Other countries are already taking steps to reduce weeds seeds in their soybeans. Your participation in the systems approach will not only ensure that U.S. soybeans continue to meet China’s import requirements, it will also enhance their value, making them even more competitive in the global marketplace.


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