How do soybeans grow?


Growing Soybeans 101

Soybeans are the second most planted field crop in the U.S., trumped only by corn, and more than 80% of U.S. bean acres are found in the upper Midwest, according to the USDA. The legumes are grown for use in everything from food products to fuel.

On this page, you’ll get basic information on planting, growing, and harvesting this podded plant that’s found in fields all across the Midwest, Delta, and southeast portions of the United States.

Planting Soybeans

Getting seed in the ground at the right time, when soil temperatures get around 50°F, is always the goal, but new trials from Ehler Bros. Seed say planting early can boost soybean yields in central Illinois in certain years. According to one of the company agronomists, farmers can get 8 to 10 extra bushels per acre by simply planting full-season soybeans earlier than they would normally—no later than the end of April. The company thinks growers should consider planting beans before corn, which would be a change of pace for most of the Corn Belt.

Soybean planting depth is another factor for setting yourself up for success. Soil temperature, moisture, and type of tillage all should be considered when choosing the depth you’ll plant beans at. Iowa State Extension advises Iowa farmers to not plant soybeans deeper than 2 inches. In fact, 1 to 1.5 inches deep is best for Iowa.

The Thing About Dicamba

Monsanto, BASF, and Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, market new formulations of the herbicide dicamba that manufacturers say are lower in volatility than older dicamba formulations. Although the herbicides resulted in excellent weed control in 2017, there was off-target damage. In some cases, off-target movement appeared to move miles away.

It’s predicted that Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean usage will double from 2017 to the 2018 growing season as EPA registration of dicamba use in dicamba-tolerant soybeans is set to expire in November.

Soybean Variety Selection

Arguably the greatest tool in modern soybean farming is the ability to hand-select traits preferred in a soybean variety. Between disease and herbicide traits, maturity selection, and standability and shattering options, farmers can start the growing season with more control than ever over how the following months will go.

Later maturing soybean varieties tend to have higher yields, but the highest-yielding varieties aren’t always the most profitable for growers. Iowa State University Extension suggests balancing yield potential with other management costs.

There are always new traits and varieties being tested by seed companies and recently agricultural companies have been teaming up to get the latest seed technology in U.S. fields. Courtesy of a collaboration between Dow AgroSciences and ADM, Enlist E3 soybeans will be available to U.S. farmers looking to implement the weed-control technology in 2018. The Balance GT Soybean Performance System, known as Balance Bean, is also the product of a collaboration and is the herbicide component to the Balance GT soybeans.

Import approvals for Balance GTLL (LibertyLink GT27) are still pending, say Bayer officials.

How to Grow Soybeans

Although soybean acres can face soybean cyst nematodes (SCN), sudden death syndrome (SDS), brown stem rot, iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC), white mold, and phytopthora, choosing the right seed variety and/or applying an effective pesticide can help to combat issues throughout the growing season. Check out these 8 do’s and don’ts for soybeans for helpful tips for different growing conditions.

Closely scouting soybean fields to watch for pod growth and tissue testing to find nutrient deficiencies is a good strategy for great bean management. Supplementing plants with potassium and sulfur may boost yields in an average-performing soybean field. Weeds, too, need to be closely managed with herbicides. Glyphosate, dicamba, and other products have incidentally contributed to the development of resistant weeds, but working closely on a management plan with an agronomist can make a huge difference.

Harvesting Soybeans

Once 95% of pods are a mature tan color and moisture levels reach the 13% to 15% range, it’s time to start harvest. With moisture levels lower than 13%, beans have a much higher shattering chance and may be brittle or split. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension warns against harvesting soybeans when they are at their driest, like on a hot afternoon, to avoid additional shattering.

This combine maintenance and adjustment guide can help you make sure you’re ready for a productive, profitable harvest this year.

Soybean Yields

High yields are always the goal for soybeans, but corn often gets the most attention in terms of management. Give your soybean crop a little extra attention this year and implement these 5 steps to boost your soybean yields.

Although yield contests can inspire farmers to manage crops differently, it’s important to remember that some fields will realistically never be able to produce 100-bushel or more yields based on location and soil quality. That being said, there’s always something to be learned from the high yield contests. One Illinois family set a new state record for highest verified soybean yield and have tips for how they managed the 108-bushel contest plot.

Soybean planting depth matters

Soybean seed is very sensitive to planting depth, so producers need to be careful and get their crop off to a good start. Planting depth surveys revealed that only 20 percent of the fields planted with drills were planted at or near the intended depth. An even bigger concern is that in 68 percent of the fields, the seed was planted too deep, a condition known to delay emergence.

Under most conditions, soybeans should be planted between 1 and 1.5 inches deep. As a general rule, plant at the shallower end of the range under the following conditions:

  • Early planting
  • High residue conditions
  • Fine-textured soils
  • Moist soils

Planting at the deeper end of the range is recommended under the following conditions:

  • Late planting
  • Coarse-textured soils
  • Dry soils

Soybean seed can be planted up to 2 inches deep in sandy soils.

Adequate soil moisture is the most important factor affecting soybean germination. The seed must imbibe (take-in) 50 percent of its weight in moisture in order for the germination process to begin and remain above 20 percent after the seed swells and the seed coat splits. This is why agronomists recommend planting soybeans into at least 0.5 inch of moist soil. This may require planting deeper than 1.5 inches under dry soil conditions. If you must plant deeper than 1.5 inches in order to place the seed into uniform moisture, make sure the variety has an excellent emergence score or long hypocotyl.

Also, consider seed size when deciding how deep to plant. Large seed contains more stored energy and should be able to emerge from greater depths than small seed. This is true when large seed is planted in coarse-textured soils. However, the larger cotyledons on large seed are more difficult to pull through a soil crust, so plant large seed shallower when planting into soils prone to crusting.

Planters typically provide better depth control than drills or air seeders. However, depth control on drills and air seeders equipped with gauge wheels mounted on single disk openers can be greatly improved. A cheap and effective option is to reconfigure the planting units on drills or air seeders set up on 7.5-inch rows so that none of the gauge wheels run over the old corn row. This procedure is discussed in more detail in the Michigan State University Extension article, “Reconfiguring planting units on no-till drills to improve soybean planting performance.”

Taking time to check planting depth is important regardless of the planting equipment used. I visited a field where a planter had failed to place the seed at the correct depth. The units mounted to the center frame of the planter placed the seed at 1.5 inches deep and into moisture while the units mounted to the outer wings planted the seed 1 inch deep and into dry or marginal moisture conditions. The shallower seed emerged two weeks later than the deeper seed and yielded 1.6 bushels per acre less.

Last spring, I visited a sandy field of drilled soybeans that were emerging slowly and unevenly. In this case, most of the seed was planted too deep (see photo). The two plants on the left were planted at least 1 inch deeper than the emerged plants on the right and the seed was placed about 3 inches deep. The variety had an excellent emergence rating and many of the plants were able to finally emerge, but with lower energy reserves and vigor than the plants that were planted at the correct depth.

Adjust your soybean planting equipment as soil and crop residue conditions change and dig up seed frequently to verify that it is placed at the intended depth and into at least 0.5 inch of moist soil.

This article was produced by the SMaRT project (Soybean Management and Research Technology). The SMaRT project was developed to help Michigan producers increase soybean yields and farm profitability. SMaRT is a partnership between MSU Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program.

Growing Soybean

Updated: April 2006
Note Number: AG1138
ISSN 1329-8062

The industry

The Soybean (Glycine max) is an irrigated summer growing oilseed crop whose grain in Australia has traditionally been used for oil extraction and the meal used in the stockfeed industries. More recently soybeans have become a popular culinary grain used in the making of Asian foodstuffs such as milk and tofu. Australia and Victoria are net importers of soybeans with the majority used as meal for use in animal rations. Soybeans were first grown in Victoria in the early 1980’s and have been grown commercially in Victoria since then. The aims of the current breeding program are to develop varieties that are-

  • better suited to culinary uses
  • adapted to growing in southern regions
  • resistant to phytophthora root rot disease. Highest prices are obtained for export grade soybeans for

Japan, capable of filling an out- of -season supply from the Northern Hemisphere.

Soybean – 11 days after sowingSoybean – 75 days after sowingSoybean – 90 days after sowingA healthy crop at 90 days after sowing

Figure 1. Some growth stages of soybeans

Sowing date

Soybeans are best suited to the northern irrigation areas of Victoria where summer temperatures are warm and day length is longer. In tropical areas of Australia they can be grown on stored and summer rainfall but southern Australia is too dry for this to be considered. Soybeans are a very photo-period sensitive plant, meaning the trigger to start flowering is brought on by the decreasing day length after the summer solstice on December 22. In southern latitude climates such as Victoria it is important to maximise vegetative growth before this period to maximise yield. Experience over the last 20 years has shown that there is little value in very early sowing and that the 15th November is an optimum date in most years. Sowing too late leads to a crop unable to reach optimum vegetative growth, low pods and lengthens the maturity time into late April/May, increasing the risk of weather damage, late harvest, small immature seed and reduced time available for winter crop planting. Varieties grown in Victoria have an indeterminate growth habit, flowering starts 50-60 days after sowing (20–35 cm height) and continues through to between 80-120 cm. The crop reaches physiological maturity 140 days after sowing.

Land capability

Soybeans have been successfully grown on many irrigated soil types, using border-check flood, overhead sprinkler and bed layouts. Soybeans have little tolerance to waterlogging up until the four leaf stage so a lasered layout capable of rapid watering and drainage is essential. Aim to have water on and then off within 12-18 hours. Mature plants have greater waterlogging tolerance and occasional periods less than 48 hours can cause minimal yield loss. Soybeans are intolerant of soil salinity and need soil with less than 2 dS/m ECc and irrigation water needs to be less than 1.5 dS/m ECw. Paddocks with a pH (CaCl2) of less than 4.8 may need liming, soybeans are intolerant of acidity.


Soybean seed is very fragile and cannot cope with seed coat damage. The use of spiral augers is not recommended and belt shifters or vacuums are much gentler on seed. Even though beans should be harvested at 15% moisture content to minimise seed damage, the seed should be stored at below 13% and preferably at 10% moisture content and kept cool to maintain viability. Regardless of this though, soybean seed loses viability quickly and a germination test as close as possible to sowing is essential. Sowing two-year old seed is not recommended and fresh seed, every year is the best option. Sowing rates for soybeans need to be adjusted for seed size and germination % every year to achieve a density of 3035 plants/m2. Seed size between varieties and between paddocks of the same variety can differ remarkably. Stephens beans can have seed as small as 14g /100 seeds where large culinary grade beans could be 24g /100 seeds, 70% larger, necessitating a corresponding increase in seeding rate to achieve the same plant density. The following formulae can be used to calculate the required sowing rate.

Seeding rate (kg/ha) = Required Plant density/m2 x 100 seed weight in grams x 1000 Germination % x Establishment %

Crop establishment is the biggest variable and is best known from experience using your sowing equipment and farming system. Poor vigour seed, sowing depth, high/low seedbed moisture and crusting can all lead to establishment problems. Low plant numbers lead to pods formed low to the ground, whereas high plant numbers lead to tall plants prone to lodging. Growers with open front headers claim that this is not a major impediment to harvest as they harvest the whole crop low anyway. High plant numbers can also increase the severity of Sclerotinia root rot if it attacks the crop.

Management practices


Soybeans have a large requirement for nitrogen, but can obtain the majority of this from the air via Rhizobium bacteria forming nodules on their root system. Soybean seed needs to be inoculated with group H rhizobia to get effective nodulation and ensure adequate nitrogen nutrition to the plant. Rhizobium bacteria need low nitrogen soils for optimum effectiveness and soybeans grown after cereal crops rather than pasture provide these conditions.


Soybeans are large users of soil nutrients. In a properly nodulated crop up to 100 kg N/ha will be produced for every tonne of grain produced. Soybeans have a large requirement for phosphorous. For every tonne of grain produced the crop will take up 11 kg P/ha and the grain will remove 7 kg P/ha. Soybeans have an extended period of P uptake right up until mid pod-fill. High fertility paddocks may be better at providing extended P availability, rather than extra large doses of starter P fertiliser. Rates in the range from 24 to 40 kg/ha of P are regularly used. Sulphur is not likely to be a problem on soils that have seen single superphosphate application or where gypsum has been applied. Potassium is usually plentiful in Northern Victorian soils but may need close monitoring if many hay and silage crops have been removed. Molybdenum could be deficient in acid topsoils but addition of lime to correct the pH above 4.8 CaCl2 is more beneficial. Zinc could be deficient in some highly alkaline grey or black clay soils.


Soybeans can be sown on stored moisture and after rainfall but it is rare that this is possible. Soybeans must be pre-watered to ensure successful establishment and good nodulation. After watering, the crop is sown into receding soil moisture approximately 8-15 days afterwards depending on seasonal and soil conditions. Pre-watering early in November will lead to sowing at around the optimum time. The soil temperature needs to be above 13oC for successful germination but above 25oC is optimum for rapid emergence.

Sowing depth is important for good establishment, too shallow will lead to desiccation of the seed but too deep can mean seedlings fail to emerge, 5 cm is usually optimal. Full cultivation and incorporation of pre emergent herbicides before sowing has been practiced, but modern direct drill machines with press wheels or harrows have enabled one pass sowing and incorporation with successful crop emergence.

On many soil types, rainfall after sowing can lead to crusting and emergence problems, use of high rates of gypsum can help to alleviate this problem. Watering up dry-sown beans is not recommended on most soil types because of crusting. Recently lasered paddocks are not recommended, as soybeans are a poor pioneering crop. The crop can live on pre-watered moisture for some time before the first irrigation and will usually be about 20 cm high. After this time more rapid plant growth leads to a higher water demand and irrigation every 10-14 days will be required.

When the crop has full ground cover and pod fill has just started watering may need to be brought to a tighter seven day schedule. Watering intensity is usually tapered off towards the end of the crops’ growth. Many growers avoid late irrigation for fear of an early break to the season making harvest difficult. However, water stress at the final stages of pod fill can be costly to yield. Try to keep moisture availability up until 50% of pods have reached physiological maturity (yellowing pods and leaf drop). Tensiometers are a good way of monitoring soil moisture especially in the later stages of growth. They allow greater confidence in what water is available to the crop and give the ability to water when the crop actually needs it. Soybeans are a relatively low water use crop. Depending on season and soil type, irrigation water use varies between 4.5-8.5 ML/ha, the average is around 6.5 ML/ha.

Weed control

Soybeans are a very vigorous crop that can out compete many weeds if they can achieve full canopy coverage of the ground early. Narrow sowing rows and early sowing can help to achieve this quickest. Early weed control is best for highest yields, as bean seedlings are at their most vulnerable between 4-7 weeks from sowing. Choice of a low weed background paddock that has been in rotation with other winter and summer crops helps. Use of pre-emergent herbicides against hogweed and other grasses is recommended initially followed up by post-emergent weed control at an early growth stage if required. Broadleaf weeds such as Bathurst Burr and Black Berry Nightshade are competitors and seed quality contaminants, while grass weeds such as Barnyard Grass thrive in wet conditions and are highly competitive. Weeds at crop maturity can delay harvest and block machinery and are best desiccated one to two weeks before harvest.


There are few fungal diseases that affect soybeans in Northern Victoria. Phytophthora root rot is the major one since its re-discovery in 2002. This fungus was identified to be race 15, a common race in NSW. While most of the varieties have resistance or field tolerance to race 15 and other races, there is a need to be vigilant and to monitor the progress of this disease. The disease is favoured by wet and waterlogged conditions and is best identified at the bottom of bays. The disease leads to a brown/dead tissue lesion emanating from the ground and up the stem. The fungus effectively prevents water uptake by the plant and a major symptom is wilting and dead plants in the presence of living ones, dead patches can sometimes occur.

Sometimes the fungus Sclerotinia attacks soybeans, leading to isolated dead plants that sometimes develop to patches. Warm humid weather favours the disease and plants can be identified by having white fungal growth on the outside of stems and black sclerotes (looking like rat droppings) on the inside of the stems. Sclerotinia is an insidious disease that is difficult to control and lasts for long periods in the soil.


The soybean plant is vulnerable to insect attack over the whole of its growing period.

  • In early seedling development the grubs of the Common Grass Blue Butterfly(GBB) and Soybean Moth can cause extensive foliar damage. At later stages GBB can destroy buds, flowers and eat developing seeds.
  • During early pod formation the Green Mirid can cause abortion of pods and individual seeds in pods.
  • Throughout the whole of podding, Green Vegetable and Red Banded Shield bugs, Bean bugs and Brown Stink Bugs can cause severe losses of pods and seeds as well as causing seed discolouration, distortion and yield loss.
  • Helicoverpa grubs can cause severe damage to developing pods and seeds and usually arrive at the mid to late pod filling stage.


Soybean seed is accepted by buyers at 15%-13% moisture on an oven dry basis but only if the seed falls out of the testing cup after being squashed tight. The optimal moisture level for harvest is 13% as lower levels can lead to pod shattering and cracking and splitting of seed.

Harvesting often starts at 12.00 noon when the dew has dried off, until 5.00 pm when it sets in again and the plants and seeds take up moisture. Harvesting in the early morning or evening may be required if the moisture content is too low during the day.

The use of desiccant herbicide to mature the crop evenly, dry off weeds and reduce seed moisture content is recommended in some seasons, and is probably good insurance in most. The crop is ready for desiccation when the plant has reached physiological maturity, this is when the pods are yellow and the leaves are yellow and falling

off. Desiccating too early can be detrimental to yield. Harvest with an open front header held low to get the bottom pods. The concave should be open, drum speed low and wind high to minimise seed damage and maximise sample purity.

After harvest and depending on the season, some growers are making good money from baled soybean stubble, which is sold to the livestock industry or for garden mulch.


Snowy (97016-11)

Snowy, bred by Andrew James and selected by Luke Gaynor and released in 2005, is a couple of days later than Empyle but significantly earlier than Bowyer and Curringa. It has a clear hilum, good seed size, protein and excellent tofu making ability.

Djakal (BAF212)

Djakal, bred by Ian Rose, selected by Judith Andrews and released in 2001, is similar to slightly earlier in maturity compared to Stephens. It has a buff/brown hilum and good seed size suitable for the culinary market. Djakal has good lodging resistance but has a tendency for lower protein content. Djakal is the highest and most consistent yielder available to date.

Empyle (TH247)

Empyle was bred by Ken McWhirter and released in 2001. It is a buff/brown hilum bean suitable for the culinary market. Empyle has good lodging resistance under high yielding conditions but has a tendency for small seed size.

Empyle’s maturity is a few days later than Stephens. Empyle requires a growing agreement including royalty to the breeder.

Naring (WNC133)

This variety was bred by Ian Rose, selected by Ken Pritchard and released in 2000. It has a small yield advantage over Stephens. It has better lodging resistance and a similar maturity to Stephens. It has a black hilum and is a crushing quality bean.

Curringa (DHF064)

Curringa was bred by Ian Rose, selected by Judith Andrews and released in 1999, being very similar in growth and seed type to Bowyer, it has increased yield, disease and lodging resistance compared to Bowyer. Likewise to Bowyer, its maturity is too late for reliable growing in Northern Victoria.


This variety was bred by Ken McWhirter, released in 1987 and is the standard variety for maturity length in Victoria. Stephens is a crushing quality bean with a grey hilum. It has poor lodging resistance but has been a proven high yielding variety over many years.


Bowyer was bred by Ken McWhirter and released in 1982, it has been a high quality culinary bean for some time. It has good seed size, protein content and has a brown/buff hilum. Its maturity is at least a week to two weeks later than Stephens and for this reason cannot be recommended for Northern Victorian seasonal conditions.

Table 1. Yield of soybeans over 10 seasons (t/ha)

Breeding line 96248-23, clear hilumDjakal, buff hilumBowyer, buff hilumStephens, grey hilum

Figure 2. Soybean seed samples

Soybean Year 2005 Your figures
YIELD 2.5 tonnes per ha
PRICE $500 per tonne on farm
Soybeans 2.5t/ha @ $500 per t $1,250
Seed bed preparation 4 passes 2 ha/hr @ $54 per hr $108
Direct Sowing 2 ha/hr @ $54 per hr $27
Seed + inoculation 90 kg/ha @ $0.90 per kg $81
Triple super 200 kg/ha @ $536 per t $107
Pre-emergent herbicides to control:
Broadleaf and grass weeds $15
Application/incorporation 6 ha/hr @ $54 per hr $9
Irrigation and drainage 7.5 Ml/ha @ $39 per Ml $254
Post-emergent herbicides to control:
Broadleaf weeds $38
Application/incorporation 6 ha/hr @ $54 per hr $9
Insecticides $24
Aerial application @ $12 per ha $12
Crop dessication
Aerial application 1 pass @ $12 per ha $12
SP harvester 3 ha/hr @ $110 per hr $37
Insurance @ $11 per $’000 $14
Total Variable Costs $778

Table 3. Effect of price and yield on gross margin per hectare

Key tips for success

  • Drainage: Ensure layout allows irrigation and drainage within eight hours.
  • Soil structure: Good soil structure.
  • Sub-soil moisture: Use pre-irrigation to achieve adequate soil moisture at sowing.
  • Sown on time: Sow recommended varieties within the preferred sowing window for your location.
  • Crop establishment: Aim at a plant population of 35 to 40 plants per square metre.
  • Adequate nutrition: Apply P according to paddock history, soil test results and target yield removal figures. Approximately 40 kg P per hectare is required by a four-tonne crop. Inoculate seed with appropriate rhizobium to meet N requirements of soybeans.
  • Control weeds, pests & diseases: Use pre and post emergent herbicides and pesticides to ensure minimal yield loss. Check constantly for insects from emergence to maturity.
  • Soil moisture: Check to ensure timely irrigation. Ensure plants have adequate available water for the entire growing season.
  • Harvest: Desiccants can be useful for an early harvest and to achieve a quality high yielding crop.

The previous version of this note was published in November 2003.

The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.

Soybean Plant Stock Photos and Images

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  • Hand holding early growth soybean plant near Dugald, Manitoba, Canada
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  • Agriculture – A soybean seedling with rain droplets emerges from rich dark soil / Iowa, USA.
  • Soybean plant (Glycine max) in green unripe pod, Mississipi, USA
  • Young Soy Bean Plant and Root System Shown Below Soil Surface
  • Soybean pods maturing on plant.
  • Soybean plants grow in a field.
  • Germination of soybean plant in a rural area of Rondonopolis
  • Edamame fresh soya beans immature soybeans in the pod.
  • Pest on a soybean plant, pests developing resistance to the pesticide ‘Roundup’ made by the U.S. agricultural company Monsanto
  • Soybean field in spring Illinois
  • Soybean plant on farmer field
  • Agriculture – A soybean seedling with rain droplets in early morning sunlight emerges from rich dark soil / Iowa, USA.
  • Close up photo of a soybean plant
  • soybean pods on branch
  • Soybean Field
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  • Managing soybean plant health, expert agronomist examining crop leaves in early stages of development
  • Soybean on wooden spoon isolated on a white background.
  • yellow soybeans in bowl
  • Green soybean plant on the field in spring. Young Soy plant.
  • Southern Green Stink Bug on mature golden brown pod of soybean plant in field at start of harvest season in Midwest. Sunny fall day.
  • Agriculture – Closeup of healthy mid growth soybean plant foliage / Iowa, USA.
  • Soybean plant parts, flower, bean, leaves leaf macro details on white background, Glycine max
  • Agriculture – Healthy mid growth soybean crop in mid Summer / Iowa, USA.
  • Rows of young soybean plants in a field
  • A soy bean grows on a plant.
  • Edamame fresh soya beans close-up macro texture immature soybeans in the pod.
  • barn silo soybean plant field soya bean farm crop agriculture Ontario Canada Pickering
  • Mature unripe pods on soybean plant Florida USA
  • Soybean plant on farmer field
  • growing soybean plant field on sunny day
  • Close up photo of a soybean plant
  • Closeup of soy beans background.
  • Agriculture – Healthy mid growth soybean crop in mid Summer / Iowa, USA.
  • Soybeans growing on the stalk in dry cracked dirt in Arkansas.
  • Low angle view of soybean plant in cultivated agricultural field
  • Field of soybean with sky in background
  • Close-up view of Soybean Plant
  • Green soybean plant on the field in spring. Young Soy plant.
  • Southern Green Stink Bug on mature golden brown pod of soybean plant in field at start of harvest season in Midwest. Sunny fall day.
  • White flower on soybean plant
  • Soybean planting at different stages of maturity of the plant
  • A man using a laptop alongside a man examining soybean plants
  • Agriculture – Healthy mid growth soybean crop in mid Summer / Iowa, USA.
  • Soy beans grow on a plant in a field.
  • Legumes plantation. Soybean plants in rows. Sunny day.
  • barn silo soybean plant field soya bean farm crop agriculture Ontario Canada Pickering
  • Ethanol processing plant, using corn & soybeans.
  • Two soy plants isolated on white background
  • Soybean pods and seeds on plant
  • Close up of soybean plant in warm early morning light
  • Closeup of soy beans background.
  • dried yellow soybeans
  • Agriculture – Healthy mid growth soybean crop in mid Summer in late afternoon light / Iowa, USA.
  • Female agronomist hand touching young soybean plant in cultivated field
  • Close-up view of Soybean Plant
  • Green soybean plant on the field in spring. Young Soy plant.
  • Southern Green Stink Bug on mature golden brown pod of soybean plant in field at start of harvest season in Midwest. Sunny fall day.
  • cultivated soybean plant field daytime
  • Crop of soybean plants, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA
  • A soybean crop in evening twilight.
  • Soy pods on stem in the fields closeup view against sunlight
  • Agriculture – Healthy mid growth soybean crop in mid Summer in late afternoon light / Iowa, USA.
  • Legumes plantation. Soybean plants in rows. Sunny day.
  • soybean plant field soya bean Glycine max farm crop agriculture Ontario Canada Pickering
  • Soybean pods maturing on plant.
  • Soybeans in Field
  • Soybean pods and seeds on plant
  • Field of soybean in the early morning
  • Closeup of soy beans background.
  • soybean, soy bean (Glycine max), fruiting plant
  • Soybean on bowl isolated on a white background.
  • Agriculture – Rows of healthy mid growth soybeans in late afternoon light / Iowa, USA.
  • Farm worker controlling soybean plant growth in field, close up of hand touching crops
  • Rural landscape of soybean plantation. Texture of soybean plant.
  • Green soybean plant on the field in spring. Young Soy plant.
  • Green Differential Grasshopper eating soybean plant leaf and pod in farm field
  • background of dried soybean plant in the field,
  • Young farmer girl examing soybean plant during harvest
  • A soybean crop in evening twilight.
  • Close-up of soybean plant in a field in Boonsboro, Maryland, USA
  • sunflower and soybean field in summer
  • Agriculture – Rows of healthy mid growth soybeans in late afternoon light / Iowa, USA.
  • soybean plant field soya bean Glycine max farm crop agriculture Ontario Canada Pickering
  • Legumes plantation. Soybean plants in rows. Sunny day.
  • Soybeans in Field
  • Soybean, Glycine max, mature plant
  • Field of soybean in the early morning
  • Closeup of soy beans background.
  • soybean, soy bean (Glycine max), pods at a plant
  • Soybean on wooden spoon isolated on a white background.
  • Soybean plant growing on the field
  • Agriculture – Rows of healthy mid growth soybeans in late afternoon light / Iowa, USA.
  • Farm worker controlling soybean plant growth in field, close up of hand touching crops
  • Agriculture – A farmer inspects a mid growth soybean plant in the field at sunset / Iowa, USA.
  • Green soybean plant on the field in spring. Young Soy plant.
  • Agriculture – Healthy mid growth soybean crop in mid Summer at sunset / Iowa, USA.
  • Soybean plant at R6 growth stage with seed pod damage from insect chewing on pod and eating bean seed

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Growing Soybeans: Information On Soybeans In The Garden

An ancient crop of the Orient, soybeans (Glycine max ‘Edamame’) are just beginning to become an established staple of the Western world. While it’s not the most commonly planted crop in home gardens, many people are taking to growing soybeans in fields and reaping in the health benefits these crops provide.

Information on Soybeans

Soybean plants have been harvested for more than 5,000 years, but only in the last 250 years or so have Westerners become aware of their enormous nutritional benefits. Wild soybean plants can still be found in China and are beginning to find a place in gardens throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Soja max, the Latin nomenclature comes from the Chinese word ‘sou,’ which is derived from the word ‘soi’ or soy. However, soybean plants are so revered in the Orient that there are over 50 names for this extremely important crop!

Soy bean plants have been written about as early as the old Chinese ‘Materia Medica’ circa 2900-2800 B.C. However, it doesn’t appear in any European records until A.D. 1712, after its discovery by a German explorer in Japan during

the years 1691 and 1692. Soybean plant history in the United States is disputable, but certainly by 1804 the plant had been introduced in eastern areas of the U.S. and more fully after an 1854 Japanese expedition by a Commodore Perry. Still, the popularity of soybeans in the Americas was limited to its use as a field crop even as recently as the 1900’s.

How to Grow Soybeans

Soybean plants are fairly easy to grow — about as easy as bush beans and planted much the same way. Growing soybeans can occur when soil temperatures are 50 F. (10 C.) or so but more ideally at 77 F. (25 C.). When growing soybeans, don’t rush planting as cold soil temperatures will keep the seed from germinating, and stagger planting times for a continuous harvest.

Soybean plants at maturation are quite large (2 feet tall), so when planting soybeans, be aware that they are not a crop to attempt in a small garden space.

Make rows 2-2 ½ feet apart in the garden with 2-3 inches between plants when planting soybeans. Sow seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Be patient; germination and maturation periods for soybeans are longer than most other crops.

Growing Soybean Problems

  • Don’t sow soybean seeds when the field or garden is overly wet, as cyst nematode and sudden death syndrome may affect the growth potential.
  • Low soil temperatures will prevent germination of the soybean plant or cause root rotting pathogens to flourish.
  • In addition, planting soybeans too early may also contribute to high populations of bean leaf beetle infestations.

Harvesting Soybeans

Soybean plants are harvested when the pods (edamame) are still an immature green, prior to any yellowing of the pod. Once the pod turns yellow, the quality and flavor of the soybean is compromised.

Pick by hand from the soybean plant, or pull the entire plant from the soil and then remove pods.

Planting Soybeans

The best soybean yields occur on well-drained, but not sandy, soils having a pH of 6.5 or above. The critical stage for soybean yield is in August and droughty soils that typically dry out in August will have disappointing yields. Soybeans have a very broad optimal planting date with optimum dates from about May 5-25 in the warmer regions in central and western New York. Soybeans can be successfully planted in late April or early May in these regions but final stands may be more erratic so an insecticide/fungicide seed treatment is recommended for late April and early May plantings. Mid to late Group II and early Group III varieties can be planted in these regions up until about May 20 and then just Group II varieties until June 1. If a wheat crop is to be planted after soybean harvest, then a late Group I vs. a Group II variety planted in late May will mature earlier and allow for a more timely wheat planting date. In the cooler regions in central and western New York and in Northern New York, optimum planting time is during the midlle two weeks of May. Early Group II and Group I soybean varieties should be planted at this time in these regions.

Although soybean yields decline with June plantings, high yields can still be achieved by planting early Group II or Group I varieties in central and western New York and early Group I and Group 0 varieties in Northern New York until about June 15. The earlier-maturing varieties, which tend to be short in stature, yield better at a row spacing of 15 inches or less. Soybean plantings after June 20 in central/western NY and after June 10 in NNY can be risky, even with Group 0 varieties, especially if the remaining part of the growing season is cool or if frost occurs before October 1.

It is important to place the soybean seed into the ground at a precise depth and in firm contact with the soil so choice of planting equipment is especially critical. A corn planter usually does a better job of planting than a grain drill, but soybeans typically yield about 5% less in 30-inch vs. 7.5 inch row spacing in New York even with lower final stands. In addition, modern drills have much better depth control than older grain drills.

Seeding rate depends on both row spacing and seed size. We recommend seeding rates, for seed not treated with insecticide or fungicide, of about 170,000 seeds per acre for 7.5 inch row spacing (~7.5 seeds per 3 ft.), 160,000 seeds/acre for 15-inch row spacing (about 14 seeds per 3 feet), and 150,000 plants per acre for 30-inch row spacing (~26 seeds per 3 ft.). If an insecticide/fungicide seed treatment is used, seeding rates can be reduced by 10,000 to 20,000 seeds per acre. Planting depth should be about 1.25 1 to 1.5 inches, depending on soil moisture conditions, and should not exceed 2 inches. Soybeans, however, can emerge reasonably well from a 2.5 inch depth, if soil crusting is not prevalent during actual emergence from the soil. Likewise, soybeans can be planted at the 1.0 inch depth, but the seed is susceptible to drying out, if conditions are dry after planting. We recommend the use of inoculum for soybean plantings in New York, especially on fields with a limited soybean history. On fields where soybeans have been grown for more than 20 years, however, inoculum may not be necessary. Likewise, the use of an insecticide/fungicide seed treatment is not necessary but can help stand establishment, especially on early-planted soybeans. Soybeans, however, can fill in the gaps very well and perfect stands are not required for maximum soybean yields.

Managing the Crop

Use soil test results to determine both lime and fertilizer requirements (see Table 6.3.1). Soybeans do not require supplemental nitrogen fertilizer if optimally fertilized for phosphorus and sulfur and at optimal pH because soybeans can fix nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with Bradyrhizobium bacteria. If used, band-placed fertilizer should be at least 2 inches to the side and 2 inches below the seed. Do not place any fertilizer in contact with the soybean seed. Diammonium phosphates or urea should not be used in the fertilizer band. Do not use more than 40 pounds of potassium in the fertilizer band at planting either.

Soybean fields are not the best choice for maximizing the value of manure nutrients if there are other crops like corn or grass hay fields that can benefit from the nitrogen. However, manure addition does have benefits beyond nitrogen supply and there are legitimate reasons to apply manure to fields that will be rotated to soybeans. For example, manure supplies nutrients other than nitrogen and where low soil test levels suggest a potential response to phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, or micronutrients, manure is a reasonable choice to supply these nutrients. Furthermore, since harvest of soybeans will remove nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur from the field, manure can reduce the need for fertilizer purchases.

Nitrogen fixation in legumes is reduced but not eliminated when manure is applied. As nitrogen rates exceed 50% of expected crop removal, more nitrogen is vulnerable to loss. Therefore it is recommended to limit applications of manure to rates that supply no more than 50% of the expected N removal based on manure nitrogen credit estimates. Nitrogen credits from manure should not exceed 50, 75, or 100 lbs of nitrogen removed per acre for estimated soybean yields of 30, 45, or 60 bu/acre. Limiting rates to these levels will also reduce the risk of lodging.

It is recommended to inject or incorporate the manure shortly after application when there are concerns about the risk of manure runoff or nitrogen volatilization. Rates should be adjusted based on the application method. See

In corn grain-soybean rotations, fall application of manure into corn stubble can help break down the corn crop residue but fall manure application in row crop systems (especially without a cover crop) can result in increased nitrate leaching over the winter and early spring. Similarly, surface applications of liquid manure without incorporation are likely to result in nitrogen volatilization losses.

Another consideration with the use of manure as a fertilizer source is the potential to over-apply phosphorus. Soybean removal of phosphorus varies, but is typically around 0.8 lbs P2O5 per bushel. Manure applications that add phosphorus beyond crop removal to soils that test very high in phosphorus is not encouraged as such applications will further increase soil test P levels over time, increasing environmental risk with no agronomic gain.

Disease pressure needs to be considered as well when using manure on soybeans; fields with a history of diseases like Pythium and white mold are at higher risk of increased disease pressure when manure is applied. Therefore, manure application to such fields is not recommended either.

The most frequent cause of disappointing soybean yields is drought in the month of August, when seeds within the pods are enlarging and filling. The crop is actually fairly drought resistant before that, but moisture stress in August causes pods to shed and seeds to abort. For this reason, it is recommended that soybeans not be grown on sandy or gravelly soils.

Lodging before harvest is commonly encountered, but modern combines are designed to handle lodged soybeans. At maturity, leaves have been shed and only stems and pods must be passed through the machine. Soybeans store safely at 14 percent moisture. They crack or break if handled roughly, especially when they are very dry, as they usually are when in storage during the coldest months.

Click table image for larger version

Related Resources

Soybean Seeding Rates – Bill Cox, Cornell University, Educational Webcast, Plant Management Network

This presentation will help consultants, growers, and other practitioners in the Northeast USA region recommend or select seeding rates for soybean production. We will present studies (small plot and field-scale) that show optimum yields averaged about 200,000 seeds/acre for soybeans in rows of 7.5 inches (drilled), 15 and 30-inches (row crop planter) in the 1990s but now average about 170,000 seeds/acre for untreated and about 140,000 seeds/acre for treated (seed-applied insecticide/fungicide) seed. We did find subtle location by seed treatment by seeding rate interactions so we urge all farmers to conduct their own on-farm tests to fine-tune their seeding rates for each field on their farm.

Note: This video is best viewed at 1024 x 768 resolution. Best audio is achieved with a sound card and audio speakers/earphones. Download Adobe Flash Player if presentation is not viewable.

Food Plot Seed: How to Plant Soybeans

The soybean plant is the king of deer feed. Period. It’s higher in protein (approximately 25-30 percent), offers a good number of carbohydrates and is more palatable than most food sources available to deer. Furthermore, deer don’t have to work hard to eat it. It sits at an easy-to-reach height and there isn’t much effort involved while consuming it. But the best part of this plant species? It provides both forage and grain. Deer target the leafy plant earlier in the year while it’s still green and then the actual soybean after it’s hardened later in the season.

Interestingly enough, when deer have the option of both standing corn and standing soybeans, I’ve watched many more deer go to the beans than the corn. This has been the case both during the early and late seasons. Deer simply prefer it over other options.

Because of this, when planting this warm-season annual legume, it’s imperative to plant food plots as large as possible. Deer will begin consuming the plants as early as germination. It can be difficult to keep a small stand of soybeans alive if deer are overgrazing them.

How to Plant

Gear Review: Yamaha Wolverine X2 Side-by-Side in Realtree EDGE

Begin with a soil test to determine the quality of it. Since soybeans are nitrogen-producing plants, it’s likely you won’t have to apply as much of it when fertilizing — especially if the ground was already in them in recent years. On the flip side, they are potassium- and phosphorous-hungry plants. Optimum soil pH is 6.0 and higher. Adjust as needed.

In areas with low to medium deer densities, work the soil in an area no less than 2 acres to prevent over-browsing. Consider a larger area if higher numbers of deer are present. Fencing during the growing period can help with this. If drilling the seed, 40 to 60 pounds per acre is sufficient. When broadcasting, 60 to 80 pounds per acre is the magic window.

If you planted a Round-Up Ready variety, spray for weeds with Glyphosate once the plants are 10-15 inches tall. This will eliminate competing weeds and vegetation that will subtract from the overall yield of the crop.

When to Plant

Soybeans have a fairly defined window for planting — but are generally planted later than corn. In the southern states, seed between April and June. In the northern latitudes, planting from early May to late June will suffice.

The most important thing to remember is to plant after the cold weather subsides and soil temperatures have reached adequate levels. Once you’re in the clear, begin putting seed to soil. But don’t plant them too late, either. You want the plant to mature before the first frost of fall hits the area.

Where to Plant

Soybeans are hardy plants and are more tolerant to flooding and extensive rain than other plant species (like corn). But well-drained soil is best for maximum yield.

Soybeans can be planted in the North and South. However, most varieties don’t do well in overly sandy soil. If you can, find an optimized variety for such an area.

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When and how to plant soybean

Unseasonably cold temperatures, wet conditions and snow can impact soybean planting in much of the Upper Midwest. Here, we outline the key factors for successful soybean planting.

Weather and soil conditions

Pay attention to the five-day forecast prior to planting, and avoid planting when the near-term forecast calls for extreme cold and wet weather.

The lack of oxygen in saturated soils and the formation of a soil crust of even modest strength can almost eliminate soybean emergence.

Planting in cool and wet conditions also may lead to poor germination and seedling diseases caused by pathogens such as Pythium. Extended cold and rainy periods after planting can magnify these problems.

Planting date

In Minnesota, planting soybean on May 10 results in an average yield loss of only 2 percent, compared to a 3 percent yield loss for May 15 and a 6 percent yield loss for May 20.

How planting date affects soybean yield potential

Planting date Yield loss Yield potentia
May 1 0% 100% of maximum
May 5 1% 99% of maximum
May 10 2% 98% of maximum
May 15 3% 97% of maximum
May 20 6% 94% of maximum
May 25 9% 91% of maximum
May 30 13% 87% of maximum
June 4 18% 82% of maximum
June 9 24% 76% of maximum
June 14 30% 70% of maximum

Soybean maturity

Recent planting date research at the University of Minnesota supports the historical planting date data shown above. However, we’ve found that soybean maturity somewhat affects the rate of yield loss.

Open all | Close all Plus sign (+) if content is closed, ‘X’ if content is open. Longer- vs. shorter-season varieties

Planting very full-season varieties (+0.5 maturity group (MG)) tends to produce greater overall yields, but only when planted by the first week of May. By mid-May, any yield advantage of longer-than-adapted varieties is lost.

You can plant a somewhat shorter-season variety (-0.5MG) through the end of May with little yield penalty. However, short-season varieties have a lower yield potential than adapted or longer-than-adapted lines.

Again, yield penalties throughout May depend on the soybean maturity. Long-season varieties have greater yield potential, but tend to have a greater yield penalty related to late planting. Short-season varieties will yield less than long-season varieties when planted early, but yield similarly when planted in mid- to late-May.

Plus sign (+) if content is closed, ‘X’ if content is open. When to switch maturities

It’s important to keep the maturity-switching recommendations in mind. The standard University of Minnesota guideline is that you should not adjust soybean maturities until June 10.

Soybean producers who start with very long-season soybeans should consider switching by June 1. Those who plant short-season soybean varieties can hold their maturities until late-June.

Seth L. Naeve, Extension agronomist and Dave Nicolai, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

Posted 30 November 2016. PMN Crop News.

How to Grow Soybeans

Source: Article.

By Daniel Davidson

Bloomington, Illinois (November 11, 2016)–Soybeans are a major crop in countries including the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, India and China. It is also grown in some Canadian provinces and in smaller acreages in Asia and South Africa. And now Soybeans are being introduced as a crop in other parts of Africa.

While farmers harvest bean seeds, soybeans are grown for their oil and protein—those are the two end products. The oil is edible and has many industrial uses. The crude protein can be eaten by livestock and extracts of the protein can be consumed by humans. And in parts of the world, people need more high quality protein to supplement their carbohydrate-rich diet.

The ILSoyAdvisor is a place for growers and agronomists to learn more about growing soybeans and producing them profitably and sustainably. The information is practical, straightforward and readable. It is the only soybean management site of its kind available on the Internet. However, we have learned that readership is not limited to Illinois. We get viewers from around the globe asking about how to grow soybeans where there is no history or technical support. So they reach out to ILSoyAdvisor for some suggestions.

ILSoyAdvisor gets questions on growing soybeans in obscure places and while we are happy to dispense some general management advice, it’s always best to contact a local expert or another farmer who has experience growing soybeans and can tell you what to do and not to do. We can, however, provide a brief primer on the crop and its management.

Soya as a crop: Soybeans are a legume and oil seed crop that originates in China. It is a bushy plant that grows to a height of at least 3 feet or 1 meter and its growing season takes 90 to 120 days. And as a legume, if the seed is treated with a bacteria, it can fix much of its own nitrogen. It is a warm season crop, so it should be grown during the warmer part of the year and during the rainy season. Some countries experience distinct dry seasons and soybeans won’t perform well without irrigation.

Yield: Soybean yields are quite variable depending on variety, soil, weather and management. They can yield anywhere from 30 to 80 bushels per acre, which is roughly equivalent to 2000 to 6000 kg/ha. The higher yields require good varieties, good weather and exceptionally good management and investment. Smallholder yields at the start might range from 1 to 2 metric tons per hectare with very little investment or management.

Soil: Soybeans grow best in loose, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter with a near neutral pH of 6 to 6.8. Soybeans aren’t tolerant of acid or heavy, wet soil. Agronomists say that soybeans don’t like wet feet, so well-drained soils are important.

Variety: The most important decision a farmer must make is finding a good variety to plant, that is, a variety with good agronomic characteristics that has good germination, clean seed and is adapted to where they farm. If you are planting soybeans for the first time, reach out to your national program or reputable seed dealer and ask for a variety that is adapted and performs. This is the most important decision you can make. There are more than 10,000 soybean cultivars available. Green-seed cultivars are tender and flavorable. Black-seed beans are used for drying. Yellow-seed beans are used to make soy milk and flour.

Planting and spacing: Plant seeds 1 to 2 inches deep (2.5 to 5 cm), 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) apart in rows 15 to 30 inches (40 to 75 cm) apart. Many farmers use commercial planters that precisely place the seed at the right depth and spacing and then cover the seed trench. You can also dig a seed trench and dribble the seed into the row, cover the furrow with soil and lightly firm the soil over the top. Don’t worry too much about over planting because soybeans will compensate by changing their individual structure if plants are too close together or too far apart.

Water: Seeds need water to germinate and emerge. Rainfall often is all that is needed to produce a crop. However if you experience a dry season, water the crop up and regularly water during flowering and pod formation. Avoid overhead watering because soybeans don’t like wet feet—it leads to root and stem rot.

Nutrients: Soybeans need nutrients like phosphorus and potassium. But generally they fix their own nitrogen. Adding animal manure, compost or some commercial fertilizer will improve yield. Generally growers have their soil tested for nutrient levels and then fertilize with phosphorus and potassium according to the soil tests and what is limiting. Soybeans—like any crop—yield better when key nutrients are available. If you already fertilize corn (maize) and wonder how to fertilize soybeans, follow the same practice as you do for corn but eliminate nitrogen.

Pests: A number of diseases and insects can attack soybeans. In developed countries growers scout their fields and apply pesticides to control pests. One good way to keep pests and diseases at bay is to rotate away for soybeans. If you are growing soybeans for the first time and very few soybeans are grown in your neighborhood, this crop is rarely bothered by pests or diseases. But keep the field clean of weeds and free of crop residue so that pests cannot harbor or survive to the next season. And always rotate to another crop.

Harvest: Green pod beans can be harvested when pods are green, full and plump or about half mature. Green seed for shelling and fresh use are ready for harvest 50 to 65 days after planting. Dry soybeans require 100 to 120 days to reach harvest. At this time the whole plant and pod will be brown or brownish yellow and seed moisture will be around 12 to 14 percent. Shell dry beans once the pods are fully dry.

Storage: Dry soybeans can be stored in a cool and dry place for months. However, fresh pods or whole seeds need to be eaten, marketed or stored in a refrigerator until used.

Agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D. posts blogs on agronomy-related topics. Feel free to contact him at [email protected] or ring him at 402-649-5919.

Anyone who has tried edamame in a Japanese restaurant will know that they make an oishii snack.

Also known as “edible soybean”, “green soybean” and “vegetable soybean”, edamame varieties are picked when young, steamed in the pod and served with lots of salt. Popping those succulent, shiny little green devils out of their pods and into your mouth is an activity that goes particularly well with a glass of cold beer.

I’m also finding them easy to grow, so far. About 10 weeks after I planted them in a moderately fertile raised bed, my plants are starting to flower, and are about a metre tall. They’ve produced an enormous amount of green matter, which I will incorporate into the soil after I’ve cropped the beans.

This makes edamame an edible plant and a green manure all in one, and as a legume, it is also improving my garden by taking nitrogen from the air and putting it in the soil (I coated them with the appropriate inoculant before sowing, so the right bacteria are on hand to make this nitrogen-fixing process work).

Pests such as corn earworm, stinkbugs and aphids can apparently give edamame a bit of a hiding so I’m growing mine under a net (I’ve moved it to one side for the picture). Soybeans are self-pollinating, so you don’t have to worry about giving insects access to the flowers to produce a crop.

If you’re north of Sydney, give them a whirl. You can find them through online seed companies such as Green Harvest (click here and scroll down until you hit Edamame), which says you can sow until February or March.


By: Simon Webster

First published: January 2012

History of Soybeans

It wasn’t until the 1940’s that soybean farming really took off in America. Soybean production in China, the major supplier at that time, was halted by World War II and internal revolution. When the United States entered the war, the steep increase in demand for oils, lubricants, plastics and other products greatly increased the demand for soybeans. United States farmers produced the needed soybeans.

Following the Second World War, the United States experienced a period of increasing prosperity. Demand for meat consumption increased as people’s diets improved. Livestock producers found that soybean meal was the preferred source of protein at an affordable cost. Chickens, turkeys, cattle and hogs were fed diets containing tens of millions of tons of soybean meal each year. This increase in the use of soybean meal for livestock feed began in the 1950’s and soybean meal has been the preferred choice ever since.

One of the great scientific advances in agriculture was the improvement of the soybean in the 1990s to withstand herbicides. This meant that farmers could control weeds without killing the soybean plant. They wouldn’t have to cultivate the fields with steel implements, which meant less soil erosion, less fuel expended, and more yield per plant. This development resulted in new production practices that are gaining acceptance around the world. Farmers in food deficit regions of Africa and Asia are realizing that this technology will feed many more people on the same amount of land. The technology has allowed U.S. farmers to become suppliers to the world at a time when global demand for food is reaching unprecedented levels.

Thirty-one U.S. states have a soybean production industry. The top producers are the states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. These midwestern states have deep, rich soils and relatively cool summer nights. North Carolina in comparison produces about one-tenth of the volume of soybeans produced in Iowa. But North Carolina produces many other crops besides soybean. A typical North Carolina soybean farmer might also grow corn, wheat, cotton, tobacco, sweet potatoes or peanuts. North Carolina has one of the largest pork and poultry industries in the world. As a net importer of soybeans and soybean meal, North Carolina ranks has high as many entire countries!

Soybeans have been cultivated in Asian civilizations for thousands of years, and are one of the most important food crops globally today. These legumes can be classified as legumes, oil-seeds, vegetables, or even fuel sources, depending upon how they are used. Soybeans are also one of the few plants that have a full array of amino acids in their protein compositions to be considered “complete” proteins, on par with meats, milk products, and eggs. Commercially important products commonly made from soybeans include protein powders, textured vegetable protein, soybean vegetable oil, edamame, dry beans, sprouts, livestock feed, gluten-free flour, natto, tempeh, tofu, soy milk, soy cheese and curds, and much more. Though originating in Asia, 7 of the top 10 producers today are found in the New World. Soy products have also been shown to be beneficial in reducing the risk of certain disease, including heart disease and certain cancers. On the other hand, many individuals live with an allergy to this important legume.

10. Uruguay (3.2 million metric tons)

Soy plantations occupy over 60 percent of Uruguay’s arable farmland, and annual soybean production has been on the rise in recent years. During the 2012-2013 growing season, the country produced 2.76 million tons of soybean, and in the 2013-2014 season that production rose to 3.2 million, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture. The soya bean’s exports in 2013 earned the country $1.89 Billion USD, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) data. Increases in production have been attributed to farmers’ adopting of certified soybean seeds better suited to grow within the country’s ecological environs. Initially, Uruguayan farmers had planted seeds that had been bred for other regions, according to the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Almost 100 percent of the seeds used commercially today are also bred using modern biotechnology, producing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

9. Bolivia (3.3 million metric tons)

The soybean is the most treasured crop in Bolivia, and it is largely produced in the Santa Cruz region. According to the USDA, it accounts for 3 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, and employs 45,000 workers directly, while generating 65,000 more jobs indirectly. There are about 14,000 soybean producers in Bolivia. Depending on the agronomic practices applied and the soil and weather conditions, yields per hectare may range between 1.8 and 2.3 metric tons. In 2014, according to FAOSTAT, the country produced 3.2 million metric tons of soybeans. But, in 2015, according to the USDA, Bolivian soya production had dropped to 3.1 million metric tons. This was due to a drought which affected 12 percent of the 1 million hectares in the production region. In 2013, soybean was the number 3 export for Bolivia, earning the country $620 million USD, according to MIT data.

8. Ukraine (3.9 million metric tons)

Ukraine is the largest producer of soybeans in Europe, and the 8th largest in the world. Half of the soybeans produced in Ukraine are exported. Annual production has steadily been on the rise in recent years. During the 2014-2015 season, the country produced 3.9 million metric tons, an increase from the 2013-2014 season, when production was 2.774 million metric tons, according to Commodity Basis. Soybean plantations in Ukraine have also increased in recent years, due to a rise in export demands fort the oil-seed. In the year 2000, Ukrainian soybeans were cultivated on 65,000 hectares, but by 2015 that figure had reached about 2.1 million hectares, according to Ukraine Soybean Congress.

7. Canada (6.0 million metric tons)

In Canada, annual soybean exports alone garner the nation over $1 billion USD, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. In recent years, annual production has been on a steadily increasing trend. In 2014, over 6 million tons were harvested, which was itself an increase of 12.9 percent from 2013 totals according to Statistics Canada. In the same period, land for soya production had increased to 5.5 million hectares. 70 percent of soybeans produced in Canada are grown in the Quebec and Ontario provinces, and almost two thirds of them are exported, either raw or processed, to Japan, the Netherlands, Southeast Asia, the U.S, Europe, and the Middle East, collectively, according to Soy Canada.

6. Paraguay (10.0 million metric tons)

Paraguay, accounts for 3 percent of worldwide soybean production according to a 2016 Commodity Basis report. In recent seasons, soybean production has increased as more land is allocated for its cultivation in Paraguay. According to the USDA, in the past two decades land dedicated to soybean cultivation has increased steadily at an average rate of 6 percent annually. Currently there are over 3.1 million hectares of Paraguayan land where soy production is carried out. The USDA projects that, over the next 5 to 10 years, land for soybean production there will further grow to 4 million hectares. Soybeans from Paraguay are exported to the EU, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, and Brazil, often first passing through Uruguay and Argentina. In 2013, according to MIT data, soybeans were the country’s top export, bringing in $2.41 billion USD.

5. India (10.5 million metric tons)

India is Asia’s second largest producer of soybeans, and it accounts for 3.95 percent of global production according to Statista. From the 2004-05 season to the 2012-13 season, there has been a compound annual growth rate of 9.6 percent for soybean production in the country, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Annual production for the 3 seasons up to 2014-15 had ranged from 9.5 to 12.2 million metric tons annually. In India, the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh account for 89 percent of the country’s total production, according to FICCI. Most of the rest is produced in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, and Gujarat. In 2013, soybean meal exports alone earned the country $2.7 billion USD. To keep up with increased demand, the country has embarked on efforts to raise soybean yields by introducing new technologies for cultivation.

4. China (12.2 million metric tons)

China accounts for 4 percent of soybean production in the world, according to Commodity Basis. Much of the country’s Soybeans are grown in the northern Heilongjiang Province, near the Russian border. According to the province’s Agriculture Commission, there are over 235 million hectares used as soybean farmland in the province. Still, China has to import large amounts of soybeans to meet the domestic demand. China accounts for 60 percent of worldwide soybean imports, according to Commodity Basis, making it the largest importer of soybeans, followed by the collective members of the European Union. Much of the prices in the world market for soybean are dictated by China’s demand. For the last six planting seasons up to 2014-15, annual production has ranged between 12.2 to over 15.08 million metric tons there, according to the USDA.

3. Argentina (53.4 million metric tons)

Argentina has farmlands of over 20.3 million hectares dedicated to growing soybeans. Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Santa Fe are the states where soybeans are grown in largest quantity according to Commodity Basis. The country accounts for 18 percent of the world’s soybean production. Though Argentina exports only 7 percent of global raw soybean exports, it’s the biggest exporter of soybean oil and meal. In 2013, soybean meal was Argentina’s single largest export commodity, earning the country $10.7 billion, according to MIT data. In the four most recent soybean seasons in Argentina up to 2014-15, annual production has been in the range of 40.1 to 56 million metric tons, according to the USDA.

2. Brazil (86.8 million metric tons)

As the second largest producer of soybeans worldwide, Brazil accounts for 30 percent of the global production of the crop. The country has over 29 million hectares of land available and used for farming soybean. In the 4 most recent growing seasons up to 2014-15, soybean production has been on a steady rise, according to USDA. Annual production quantities in that time span have ranged from 66.5 to 94.5 million metric tons. In 2013, soybean exports earned the country $23 billion USD according to MIT data. Soybeans grown in Brazil have higher protein levels than those grown in many other parts of the world, and thereby fetch higher prices in international markets, according to Commodity Basis. The country also produces a large quantity of non-genetically modified (non-GMO) soybeans, which are also pricier than genetically modified ones.

1. USA (108.0 million metric tons)

In the US, soybeans are the dominant oil seed, and account for 90 percent of the nation’s oil seed production, according to USDA. That is an agricultural commodity class that also includes canola/rapeseed, sunflower, and flax seeds, as all of these are produced into vegetable oils. The US accounts for 34 percent of the world’s soybean production. At 42 percent market share, it’s also the largest exporter of raw soybeans according to Commodity Basis. There are around 34.4 million hectares devoted for the planting of soybeans in the US. Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are the states with the largest soybean plantations in average size. Meanwhile, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and Nebraska were the states producing the largest soybean yields. Unlike other soybean producing countries, prices in the US are more significantly determined by increased bio-diesel demand, where the soy oil is used to fuel combustion engines. Annual production of soybeans in the three seasons leading up to 2014-15 has ranged between 82.8 and 108 million metric tons. Planting of soybeans in much of the US starts in May or early June, and harvesting commences in late September to October.

Who Produces the Most Soybeans?

The United States produces the most soybeans of any country in the world.

Soy Agriculture in the Amazon Basin

Soy cultivation is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin. Seeds from the soybean plant provide high protein animal feed for livestock, and 80% of Amazon soy is destined for animal feed; smaller percentages are used for oil or eaten directly. Today Brazil has 24-25 million hectares devoted to the growth of this crop, and is currently the second largest producer of soybeans in the world.

Originally from southeast Asia, the soy plant (Glycine max) is a nitrogen fixing legume planted in temperate regions throughout the world. Used primarily for animal feed, the United States still dominates the world market. In South America, soy was grown since the beginning of the century in temperate climates of southern Brazil and Argentina. In the 1970’s, however, agricultural research generated new varieties resistant to warm climates, which combined with intensive fertilizer use could yield soy in tropical regions. At the same time, demand for animal feed rose from the crash in the Peruvian anchovy fishery. Continued demand into the 1990s and early 2000’s created a soy-cattle pasture-deforestation dynamic where soy replaced existing cattle pasture, spurring new deforestation for cattle ranching further into the Amazon. Meanwhile, road improvements, especially the BR-163 “soy highway” in Mato Grosso reduced transport costs and world economic growth increased demand for agricultural products.

Intense criticism of the deforestation caused by soy cultivation in the early 2000’s inspired international advocacy. Numerous studies map the deforestation resulting from soy conversion in the Amazon region. Some even argue that US policies favoring corn ethanol result in increased soy prices, spurring soy cultivation in the Amazon. Impacts from soy cultivation also extend beyond the lost forest habitat: carbon emissions from deforestation contribute to global climate change. Soy uses high amounts of agrochemicals, causing water contamination in major waterways such as the Xingu River. Production is capital intensive and employs relatively few people, although soy production is found to raise income in some areas.

A Greenpeace report in 2006 singled out McDonalds and international commodity firm Cargill as culprits; Cargill’s response forced Brazilian soy traders to not buy soy from farmlands deforested after June 2006. The Brazilian government followed with measures to monitor compliance and deny bank credit to municipalities guilty of deforestation. After several years, satellite monitoring confirms deforestation free soy; the reduction has even proved resilient to fluctuations in the soy market. Soy production has continued, primarily through yield increases but also through expansion into the Cerrado zone of southern Brazil, as well as northern Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay.

The future of soy production and the Amazon forests depends largely on intensification: what are the limits of water and fertilizer use, and can effective governance prevent deforestation linked to soy in countries outside of Brazil. Numerous NGOs work on sustainable and deforestation free soy production. A recent article in Science describes soy supply chains and the slowdown in deforestation.


Fearnside, P. M. (2001). Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environmental Conservation, 28(01), 23-38.

WWF. Solving the soya problem. Retrieved from:

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