Cool Beans: Soy Surrounds Us

At the Farm Gate - Joanie Stiers.2

By Joanie Stiers

From the cooking oil in the cupboard and the feed in the hen house to the soles of the shoes at the back door, soy surrounds me.

Every morning, soy hits me in the face with my makeup and the gut with my protein shake. We fuel our tractors and diesel-engine trucks with renewable, American-made soy-based biodiesel.

And for a few weeks this spring, I will see the bean more than my family, when I plant more than 350 million soybean seeds on our farm.

Measuring smaller than my pinky nail, the mighty, protein-rich bean’s highly versatile characteristics accommodate global demands for food, feed and fuel. Illinois legislation currently attempts to identify the soybean as the Illinois state bean. After all, Illinois farmers grow more soybeans than anyone, with the reigning title of No. 1 soybean state in the nation.

Soybeans cover about one-fourth of Illinois’ land mass and about 45% of my family’s farmable land. We grow ultra-high-protein beans for niche markets that produce protein shakes and plant-based meats.

We contract with companies to grow seed soybeans that farmers will buy and grow the following year. And we serve the traditional markets for Illinois soybeans: A domestic supply of high-protein animal feed and a significant export market thanks to our state’s valuable river transportation system. In fact, 60% of Illinois soybeans are exported, credited to the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers bordering or flowing through our state.

Beans from our small-town farm often head to China, the top soybean importer by a wide margin. The country buys four times the American soybeans of No. 2 Mexico for oil and animal feed. Meanwhile, animals represent our nation’s top soybean consumer.

Chickens, turkeys, pigs, cattle and farm-raised fish thrive on the protein content in soybean meal that makes up 80% of the bean.

In the kitchen, soymilk and margarine (plant butter) serve as dairy alternatives. People treat tofu, a soybean product, like meat. Newspapers print with soy ink, kids color with soy-filled crayons, and soy frequently makes food labels in the grocery aisles. Serving as an emulsifier for some foods, soy lecithin allows oil and water to mix in favorite snacks like granola bars and chocolates.

On the farm, soybeans collaborate well with conservation-minded practices of no-till and cover crops. They add benefits to the soil in a corn-soybean planting rotation and provide our farm a double-cropping option after July-harvested wheat within a single growing season. They are pretty cool beans.

About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farmkids.

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