We have all heard of soybeans being grown in the U.S., but many of us don’t know much more than that. According to the USDA in 2018, soybeans accounted for 1/3 of the total amount of acreage planted in the United States. The United States is also the #1 grower of soybean in the world, producing 272 billion pounds of seed in 2018, which accounts for 33% of the world’s supply. Hopefully this blog will help shed some light to the average American about the importance and leading science of soybeans.
Soybean plants can grow up to 6 feet tall and produce pods that hold 3-4 beans. Soybean plants are legumes, meaning they can collect nitrogen from the air (a crucial plant nutrient) and release it back into the soil. This nitrogen capture ability makes soybeans a crucial plant in crop rotation strategies because it helps replenish the soil after other crops, such as corn, have depleted soil nitrogen. Naturally, soybeans have become an important crop in maintaining sustainable cropping systems.
Soybeans originated in China over 3000 years ago and were introduced to North America in colonial times as a forage crop. After WWII, soybean breeding and agronomic improvements led to soybeans that were used for high quality protein and oil. Soybeans today are used for human consumption (mostly in the form of oil), livestock feed, and many industrial uses such as bio-fuel, lubricants, and plastics. Modern improvements in breeding technology, agronomics, precision agriculture, and digital agriculture have expanded soybean uses and advanced production and profitability. In fact, according to the USDA, average yield per acre in 1989 was 1932 pounds (32.2 bushels) of seed. In 2018, that number jumped to an average of 3036 pounds (50.6 bushels) per acre. The record for most seed per acre was broken in 2019 by Randy Dowdy in Georgia growing 11,414 pounds (190.23 bushels) of seed per acre!
In the end, Soybean is a central U.S. crop and plays an essential role in our economy, food supplies, and industrial processes. Farmers and scientists are working hard to keep up with the demand of current markets as well as increasing demand of emerging markets like bio-fuel. With science and research, the U.S. will continue to be a top producer of soybeans for a long time to come.
Author: Ethan Mayes
Frontier Science Partnerships
- Al-Khayri, J. M., Jain, S. M., & Johnson, D. V. (2019). Advances in Plant Breeding Strategies: Legumes: Volume 7. Cham: Springer International Publishing.