Brief History of Soybean
Soybeans were originally domesticated in Southeast Asia, with Chinese farmers planting and consuming large quantities of soybean. From the first century to the 16th century, soybean were introduced into countries across Asia including India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, etc thanks to popular trading routes.
Soybean came to Europe in the 18th century and was introduced to North America in 1765, when Samuel Bowen, grew them in Georgia. Bowen was a sailor with the East India Company and had brought the soybean from China. Initially, soybean was grown for forage, oil or feedmeal. But around the time of the Great Depression it began to be used to regenerate soil as well as as a food item. Henry Ford was instrumental in funding research on the uses of soybean, and actually began using soy-based products and plastics to make his cars. In fact, nearly 120 pounds of soybean were used to make each Ford car.
Soybean gained favour during the second world war as great substitutes for proteins from other sources. It was during the Second World War too that soybean began to be used as a fertilizer. In the 1960s, the United States signed the GATT agreement which removed all tariffs for its soybean exports to Europe.
Startlingly, Soy was introduced to Africa and South America only in the late 19th century. But since then soybean has continued its march throughout the world and has become even more popular with the latest shift towards organic, healthy eating around the world.
Where is Soybean Produced and Consumed?
More than 90% of the world’s soy production comes from five countries: the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, China and India. 55% of the world’s soybean comes from the Americas.
Brazil is the world’s leading soybean producer, with 90 million metric tons of soybean produced in 2014, trailed closely by the U.S. at 89.5 million, and followed by Argentina, China and India. The world’s total production has been 249 million metric tons in 2014.
Soybean is the second most planted crop in the U.S. Around 80% of all soybean is grown in the Midwest in the U.S. In the U.S., in 2008, 74.8 million acres of land was devoted to soybean production. 90% of all oilseeds in the U.S. are soybean. The U.S. accounts for 44% of the world’s soybean exports in 2010 and 35% of the soybean production in the world in the same year.
In the 1960s, the U.S. dominated the world’s soybean trade, exporting around 90% of the world’s soybean. Now, the top exporters are Argentina and the United States (each responsible for around 40% of the world’s exports) while the world’s top importers include China (41%) and the EU (22%).
China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans, importing 55 million tons or 61% of all imports. China is actually expected to increase its imports by 50% more by 2020, to equal 110 million metric tons in imports. In 2011, 43% of Brazilian and 25% of Argentinian exports of soybean went to China.
Soybean imports to Asia were 75 million metric tons in 2009, but will grow to around 130 million metric tons in 2019.