Soybean pic

Soybeans glisten in the autumn sun. More soybeans were planted than any other crop in Williamsburg County this year.

Photo by Michaele Duke

We pass fields of the stringy plant every day and pay no mind. However, soybeans are a main crop in Williamsburg County. According to Blake Badger, USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Director, for crop year 2020, more soybeans were planted than any other crop. One hundred twenty-seven producers certified 28,593.09 acres of soybeans on Williamsburg County administered farms.   

It is believed soybeans were first domesticated in China. In 2019, nearly 10 million tons were exported to the Communist Country. According to the USDA, in the U.S., soybean planted areas for 2020 were estimated at 83.8 million acres, up 10 percent from last year. Compared with last year, planted acreage is up or unchanged in 24 of the 29 estimating states. If realized, this will be the third highest planted and harvested soybean acreage on record.

Soybeans are processed for their oil and for the animal feed industry because they are high in protein. Soybean is a staple in the diets of people in many countries. It is made into products including soy milk, soy flour and soy protein. Soy sauce had been popular in Europe and the British colonies in America before soybean seeds arrived. Today, popular items on Asian menus include Edamame, a steamed and lightly salted green soybean and tofu which is condensed soy milk pressed into a cake. Tofu can be seasoned or marinated then grilled, stewed, fried, baked, and a myriad of other ways.

Soybeans are also used in many non-food (industrial) products. Biodiesel fuel for diesel engines and biocomposites for building materials can be produced from soybeans. In fact, Henry Ford designed a soy bean car, though it never made it to the production line.

In 1904, the American chemist, George Washington Carver discovered that soybeans are a valuable source of protein and oil and encouraged cotton farmers to “rotate” their crops in a three-year plan so that peanuts, soybeans, and other plants would replenish the soil with nitrogen and minerals for two seasons, then on the third year farmers would plant cotton. His recommendation worked and farmers produced a better cotton crop than they had in the past.