All About Soy
History of the Soybean
As early as 5,000 years ago, farmers in China grew soybeans.
In 1804 a Yankee clipper ship brought soybeans to the U.S. When leaving China, sailors loaded the ship with soybeans as inexpensive ballast. When they arrived in the U.S they dumped the soybeans to make room for cargo.
In 1829, U.S. farmers first grew soybeans. They raised a variety for soy sauce. During the Civil War, soldiers used soybeans as coffee berries to brew coffee when real coffee was scarce. In the late 1800s significant numbers of farmers began to grow soybeans as forage for cattle.
Minnesota fact: 1902 – Farmers consider planting soybeans as a crop.
In 1904, at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, George Washington Carver began studying the soybean. His discoveries changed the way people thought about the soybean; no longer was it just a forage crop, it became a valuable source of protein and oil.
Minnesota fact: 1920 - Minnesota farmers planted a total of 311 acres of soybeans with a yield of 9 bushels per acre.
By 1929, U.S. soybean production had grown to 9 million bushels. That year, soybean pioneer William J. Morse left on a two year odyssey to China during which he gathered more than 10,000 soybean varieties for U.S. researchers to study. Some of these varieties laid the foundation for the rapid ascension of the U.S. as the world leader in soybean production.
Prior to World War II the U.S. imported 40 percent of its edible fats and oil. At the advent of the war, this oil supply was cut. Processors turned to soybean oil.
By 1940, the U.S. soybean crop had grown to 78 million bushels harvested on 5 million acres and the U.S. was a net exporter of soybeans and soybean products. That year, Henry Ford took an ax to a car trunk made with soybean plastic to demonstrate its durability. The publicity increased the soybean's popularity.
In the early 1950s soybean meal became available as a low-cost, high protein feed ingredient, triggering exponential growth in U.S. livestock and poultry production.
Minnesota fact: 1959 - Soybeans now yield 19 bushels per acre.
In 1999, the year Congress passed the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) supported by the American Soybean Association, U.S. commercial production of renewable biodiesel fuel measured about 500,000 gallons. One and a half gallons of biodiesel and 48 pounds of soybean meal can be produced from one bushel of soybeans.
Today, farmers in more than 30 states grow soybeans, making it the U.S.'s second largest crop in cash sales and the number one value crop export.
Minnesota fact: 2007 – Minnesota is the third largest soybean-producing state in the U.S. Farmers grow 6.25 million acres of soybeans with an average yield of 41 bushels per acre.
(Information provided by the ASA 2008 Soy Stats Guide and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's "A Condensed History of Minnesota Agriculture 1858-2008" publication.)