Soybeans around the world: a brief look at western Canadian soybean exports

April 29, 2021

In the last few years, soybean popularity has increased drastically worldwide, and Prograin has been at the forefront of quality food grade soybean production and exportation, taking the lead in the North American market for conventional and organic soybean production and export.

While many people are aware that Canada imports and exports food, they often aren’t aware of how the exportation process really looks. In this post, we’re going to walk you through this process.

In 2020, around 6 million tonnes of soybeans were produced in Canada. Approximately half of that product was exported around the world.

In the past couple years, though, usual export practices have changed as the market with China has shifted.

When China was still largely involved in the soybean market, the majority of Western Canadian soybeans, around 80- 85%, would be sent to Vancouver in hopper cars by rail. Once they arrived, around 50% of the cars were transloaded. That is, the product was moved from the hopper cars and placed into 20-foot shipping containers and shipped overseas. The other 50% were loaded into bulk carrier ships for export.

The product that wasn’t sent to Vancouver was usually railed to Thunder Bay in hopper cars, where it was then loaded into a lake vessel and sent to Montreal. Approximately 100,000 tonnes of Western Canadian soybeans were railed directly to Montreal. Once in Montreal, they were loaded onto a bulk carrier ship and sent overseas.

While the majority of Western Canadian grown soybeans are imported elsewhere in the world, nearly 3,000 tonnes of Prograin’s soybeans were exported to China in 2020 as their tofu market is in high demand. Those 3,000 tonnes are equal to approximately 150 20-foot shipping containers.

Likewise, nearly 4,000 tonnes – approximately 200 20-foot shipping containers – of Prograin’s soybeans were exported to Thailand to support their soymilk market.

However, as the Chinese market has changed, exports have shifted significantly from Vancouver to Eastern Canada. In 2019/2020, exports through Vancouver dropped by 75%, but have increased by 55% this year while Thunder Bay has remained flat.

As such, the majority of Prograin’s Western Canadian soybean crops of 2020 has been shipped from Montreal at 55% while 10% was exported from Halifax. Only 35% was exported from Vancouver.

During the 2020/2021 crop season, over 3 million tonnes of all Canadian soybeans have been shipped around the world. Iran was the primary importer with over 700,000 tonnes in import, while Italy and Algeria followed behind, with close to 350,000 tonnes in import.

Overall, nearly 1.5 million tonnes arrived in Western Europe, another 1.5 million tonnes arrived in East Asia, and just over 20,000 tonnes arrived in the United States.

Prograin’s main export markets are in China, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South-Korea, and Belgium.

For more detailed information on soybean exports, you can visit the Canadian Grain Commission at