Drive down nearly any outstate road and you will spy seas of broadly-leafed green plants sprawling over the farm fields of Minnesota. Soybeans are one of the state’s most valuable commodities and one of its most versatile.
Planted in the state since the 1920’s, soybeans were first grown as a cover crop to help replenish the nitrogen in the soil. In 1920, Minnesota farmers planted a little over 300 acres of soybeans. Today, Minnesota farmers plant more than 7 million acres of soybeans to keep up with demand. Soybeans are Minnesota’s top crop export. More than half of all beans grown here are bound for export markets.
Soybeans are an oilseed crop that is valued for its oil and meal. The bean itself is 80 percent protein meal and 20 percent oil. The meal is primarily used to feed livestock like hogs, chickens, cattle, turkeys and even fish. Animal agriculture is the largest domestic market for Minnesota beans. The meal provides an excellent source of protein and essential nutrients animals need to grow and be healthy.
The oil is used for human consumption as cooking oil, an ingredient in salad dressings or even as frying oil. Additionally, a portion of the oil is used to produce biodiesel, a clean burning diesel alternative that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized as the nation’s only advanced biofuel.
Soyfoods such as tofu, edamame, soy milk, soy burgers and other soy-based ingredients are popular human food. Soyfoods have been shown to reduce cholesterol, protect against certain forms of cancer while providing protein, fiber and essential nutrition.
The versatile soybean also can be found in innovative new places. Since only a portion of the oil is used for human consumption, the rest is finding its way into industrial products such as ink, plastics, cleaners, paints, cosmetics, even clothing and carpet. Soy-based materials can also be found in automotive parts like seats, floor mats and even cup holders.
Whether it is for food, fiber or fuel, the soybean is Minnesota’s most versatile and valuable multi-purpose crop.