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CCFB News» April 2021

Don't Know Beans about Soybeans?Learn More About One of Illinois' Most Common Crops and What it's Used For

04/05/2021 @ 8:00 am | By Carrie Steinweg, Freelance Writer

Illinois is the second highest producer of corn among the U.S. states. And it’s the leader in the country in pumpkin growing. And that’s not all. We’re also at the top when it comes to soybeans. Illinois is the largest producer of soybeans and when combined with what the runner-up, Iowa, grows, it accounts for more than a quarter of the total U.S. soybean crop.


With the favorable climate and soil conditions in the Prairie State, Illinois famers have an advantage on yield over other regions with poorer soil, said Illinois Soybean Association’s (ISA) Director of Public Policy and Market Development, Andrew Larson. “Here in Illinois, we are gifted with some of the richest soil in the world. Illinois farms know this advantage and are motivated to take care of the soil and ground they farm to maintain their advantages for generations to come.”


In Cook County, soybeans typically are planted anywhere from early April to early May depending on how dry the fields are and when soil temperature is trending toward favorable for strong emergence, according to ISA Director of Conservation Agriculture, Michael Gill, which means aiming for a mid-40-degree range soil temperature with an extended forecast of 55-plus degree days for seven days out. 


Under ideal conditions, farmers would like to get a minimum of 130,000 evenly spaced plants per acre after planting 160,000 seeds per acre. The number of successfully emerged plants will be up to the favorability of the weather. Yield will be dependent on the overall temperature during the season, distribution if rainfall and pest (weeds, insects and diseases) control throughout the growing season. 


By late September crops are typically ready for harvest and timing depends on the maturity rating of soybean and grains moisture level. There are a greater number of desirable harvest days in the southern part of the state because of the temperature difference from the northern part of the state and the grain moisture fluctuation overnight.


Once harvested, minimal handling is best to prevent splitting and breaking. Farmers then deliver the harvest to a grain elevator so that a grain dealer can transport the crop. Most of Illinois’ soybeans are exported to other states or countries. Those crops that don’t go to storage or a grain elevator may go on to a crushing facility where it is turned to meal and oil is separated before going on to factories or production facilities where it may become anything from protein powder or meat substitutes to non-food products, like insulation, artificial turf or adhesives.


“Most major food companies, including Mars, Mondelez, Kraft-Nabisco and many more use soy in some form in their food production around Chicagoland,” said Larson. He added that Indonesian investors are looking to bring tempeh chip production to Chicago to sell to Asian cuisine markets in the area.


Fun Facts About Soy (Source Illinois Soybean Association):

  • Soybeans are legumes that actually capture nitrogen from air through a symbiotic microorganism that forms small nodules on the root.
  • If Illinois were a country, we would be the fourth largest soybean producer in the world behind: Brazil, U.S. (the rest minus Illinois) and Argentina. 
  • Use of soybean biodiesel can lead to as much as 80% less carbon emissions than regular petroleum diesel fuel.
  • Soybean meal and oil do not compete for the use of the crop. Both end users have distinct production lines and are not interchangeable. 


10 Things Made from Soybeans (Source United Soybean Board) 

  1. Animal feed
  2. Soy beverage
  3. Tofu
  4. Soy Lecithin (food additive that protects texture and flavor)
  5. Vegetable oil
  6. Tempeh
  7. Biodiesel
  8. Protein powder
  9. Edamame
  10. Tires

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