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Soybeans are big business in Iowa

By Staff | Sep 25, 2009

Nobody knows exactly how long humans have cultivated the soybean, but agricultural historians are quite certain its domestication as a crop in China dates back three millennia. There are actually Chinese records documenting soybean growth as far back as the 11th century. There is some disagreement about who first introduced soybeans into North America, but researchers seem to agree that by the 1760s soybean seed had reached Georgia.

Whatever the origin, few would dispute that in the 21st century soybean cultivation is important to the world as a food source and a great deal more. Food, health products, biodiesel and printer ink are among the more important uses of this versatile bean.

According to an Aug. 13 estimate by the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, soybean-planted acreage destined for harvest was about 76.8 million acres this year. That was expected to generate a yield of 3.2 billion bushels.

Iowa leads the nation in soybean production. The Iowa Soybean Association estimates that soybean farmers contribute about $9 billion to the Hawkeye State’s economy each year.

Iowa’s renewable fuels industry has been slowed somewhat due to the recession, but its growth seems likely to escalate as both governmental leaders and consumers put greater emphasis on domestic energy production. Soybean farmers are of vital importance to the biodiesel sector of that rapidly expanding industry. U.S. consumption of biodiesel was about 450 million gallons in 2007. Some estimates project that the 1 billion gallon mark could be surpassed relatively soon. According to the Iowa Biodiesel Board, with current technology, the production of 1.4 gallons of biodiesel requires one bushel of soybeans. Iowa’s status as a leader in soybean growth has positioned it to be at the very heart of biodiesel production. According to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Iowa manufactures about 12 percent of the nation’s biodiesel and is poised to become an even more significant factor in that industry.

Soybeans and the farmers who grow them are key components of Iowa’s economic game plan for 21st-century prosperity.

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