American Farmer – Soybeans

One benefit of the increasing interest in where our food comes from is the resurgence of the American farmer. Invisible through much of the 20th century, this important player in our history is making a comeback. I say hoorah! There’s a lot we can learn from our farmers.

I am proud to be part of this country’s agricultural heritage. My family has been farming in America since the 1690s and my childhood memories of farm life are reflected in what I’ve created at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. Farming culture taught me about the importance of family and community ties and stewardship of the land. I was recently reminded of this while attending the spring livestock show in Little Rock.

In Arkansas we have close to 50,000 farms and 13.8 million acres of farmland*. There aren’t many degrees of separation between the people and farming here. Our three “king crops” are rice, cotton and soybeans. While rice is still our number one producer, soybeans hold their own. Almost 50% of our cropland is planted with soybeans, which contributes a billion dollars to our economy annually.

Soybeans are a relatively new crop for Arkansas. Early in the 20th century they were planted as a forage crop plus soybeans replenish nitrogen to the soil. Thanks to George Washington Carver, he discovered the value of soybean protein and soybean oil so then planting soybeans became more popular all over the U.S. However, it wasn’t until after WW II that farmers here started taking them more seriously. The attraction? Soybeans are a low risk crop with a good return. They grow well without irrigation; are a useful rotation crop that adds nitrogen back to the soil; and don’t require as much fertilizer as rice or cotton.

Right now we’re in the middle of soybean planting season in Arkansas – mid-April through the end of June. On a typical day farmers get out in the fields right after sunrise and come back in after 7 p.m. It’s a 12 hour a day, 6 days a week job during planting season. I don’t envy them the work. How about you?

As with any crop, timing the planting is important. Soybeans are day length sensitive. As soon as the required hours of darkness are reached the plants will begin to bloom. You can almost set your clock by it. Sow too late and the plants will be too spindly to support the blooms.

Back in the day farmers planted ‘Larado’ and ‘Jupiter’ soybeans. Today ‘Maturity Group 4′ soybeans are the norm. The name isn’t as fun, but they produce more with less water and pesticides.

Throughout the fall farmers will be out in the fields harvesting. Soybeans are allowed to dry on the plant before harvest. Seed fields are left longer so the beans can go through cool autumn temperatures.

The next time you cook with vegetable oil or apply lip balm, think about the guy or gal who sowed the seed that grew into the plant that produced the soybean that made that product possible.

Talk Like a Soybean Farmer

Dry Land Acreage – Fields without irrigation. Soybeans are better suited for dry land acreage than rice and cotton.

Maturity Group – Based on latitudinal lines across the U.S., maturity groups indicate with a soybean will flower. The lower the group number (i.e. maturity group 4) the sooner the beans are harvested.

Plant Behind – A crop that follows another when rotating crops. Farmers plant soybeans behind rice and cotton because soybeans add nitrogen to the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Seed Field – Soybean crops planted for seed production. Usually planted later in the year so the beans can experience the colder fall temperatures.

*http://www.agclassroom.org/

6 Responses to American Farmer – Soybeans

  1. Ann Schulz says:

    You don’t mention if Maturity Group 4 soybeans are GMO’s. We should have a choice if we wish to eat genetically modified foods and the only way to do that is to label them.

    • Lynda Hill says:

      You’re absolutely right Ann. Unfortunately 90% of all the soy and corn grown in the US is Round-Up ready GMO seed. I just have a difficult time calling people that plant GMO-anything “farmers”. Real farmers use sustainable gardening methods. I just don’t understand why the only “farmers” that are getting subsidies from “we the people” are those planting GMOs while the real farmers that are actually planting nutritious, organically-grown real food are on their own. Scary world we are living in–I just have a small city lot and I’ve started growing my own veggies now.

  2. Linda L. says:

    Allen: Good job explaining soybeans to people. Around here, some folks put beans in when they were too late for corn. This happens during wet springs when they can’t get the equipment into the field. Our land is now leased, but I think riding a tractor 12 hours today is far more attractive with your a/c and tunes. We must remember that the beans raised for livestock feed are not the ones we use to make some other things. There are many different types of beans out there. There are organically-raised soy just like other products for those who are concerned. When buying soy in the grocer, read the labels.

  3. Sharon Smart says:

    Thank you for the very informative article about soybeans!

  4. Nina Edwards says:

    I have heard and read that consuming to much soy for a women who is taking hormone replacement therapy can increase the chances of breast cancer. I know certain farmers are making a substantial amount of money on farming this product. But what of the consequences of the after affects of consuming to much of this product. It seems to have made it’s way into our meats, beverages, snack foods, etc… This should start making people think what are these huge companies doing to us now. Cancer has risen, diabetes, heart desease, colestrol levels, obesity.
    We as the people of this great nation need to ask far more questions about what the government is allowing big business to put in our foods.
    I appreciate your article Allen, but we need to research this product a lot more before we all join in and giving it up for the overtaking of our land in farming this product.
    I am with Linda Hill on growing our own veggies.

  5. mary-b says:

    hi allen, thank you for the post about soybeans. my pawpaw grew corn and had cattle on his farm in vilonia ark. when my uncle took over the farming, he planted acres and acres of soybeans. he has done very well with it and has the only brick house in the family. me and my cousing donna loved playing in the truck when it was full of beans. we’d jump in like you do with piles of leaves. but yes soybeans are used in so many products and we’re grateful.

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