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U.S. Farmers Excel at Growing Soybeans

U.S. Farmers Excel at Growing Soybeans
The fields of amber waves throughout rural America contain more than grain. Soybeans flourish in many fields across the country. What makes soy a big deal in the United States?
Big production
U.S. soybean farmers are very good at what they do.
  • In 2017, they grew and harvested about 4.39 billion bushels of soybeans on farms across the U.S. – 97 percent of which are family owned. The crop weighed nearly 148 million tons, according to the S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).1 One large semi holds about 26 tons of soybeans. That’s a lot of soybeans.
  • The USDA estimates that farmers planted 89.5 million acres of soybeans in 2018, growing another large, efficient crop.1 One acre is roughly the size of a football field. Again, that’s a lot of soybeans.
  • And yield — the amount of soybeans (measured in bushels) grown per acre — is improving. USDA data shows that the national average soybean yield in 2017 was 49.1 bushels per acre.1 In 1997, the national average was 38.9 bushels per acre.1 And in 1977, 40 years earlier, the average was 30.6 bushels per acre.1 That’s a 60 percent improvement — and a lot of soybeans.
Big improvements
At the same time, farmers grow more soybeans with less, improving their sustainability and better caring for their natural resources. Based on analysis of USDA data by Field to Market, a group measuring sustainability in U.S. agriculture, soybean production has improved in several ways since 1980, the baseline for these studies.
  • The amount of land needed to grow one bushel of soybeans decreased 22 percent thanks to improvements in soybean seed genetics and practices like pest control.2
  • Farmers have adopted conservation tillage and other practices that stir up soil less, cutting soil erosion 47 percent per acre.2
  • Adopting precision technology to provide water exactly where and when it is needed and soybean varieties that use water more efficiently reduced irrigation water use about 32 percent per soybean bushel.2 
  • Improving management practices and efficiencies cut energy use 35 percent per bushel.2
  • Greenhouse gas emissions decreased 38 percent per bushel due to the combination of less tillage, technology adoption and other changes.2 
And the soybean industry plans to improve even more, reducing land use and greenhouse gas emissions another 10 percent and increasing energy efficiency another 10 percent by 2025.3
Big markets
These abundant, sustainable soybeans contribute to food, feed and fuel in countless ways. Soybeans are comprised of protein-rich meal and versatile oil. For most markets, soybeans are crushed to separate those components. Growing, processing and shipping soy to domestic and global customers is a big boon to the U.S. economy. 
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