Chester County Ag Notes: County and State Record Historical Soybean Crop

Soybean field

Duncan Allison

If you lived in the rural Midwest you would be very familiar with soybeans but results from a recent survey in Chester County indicated that many residents were not aware that the crop is grown locally. We only have a relatively small acreage but nationally soybeans are the second largest acreage crop after corn with production of 3.9 billion bushels with a value of $40.3 billion in 2014.

174 farms in Chester County grow soybeans.
About half of the Chester County soybean crop is exported, particularly to China. In 2015 a record number of 82.7 million soybean acres were planted in the whole country – it was also a record year for soybean planting in Pennsylvania.

Soybeans are also an important crop for the 174 farms that grow soybeans in Chester County. Soybeans are a legume like clover, peas, beans and alfalfa so they are a valuable crop to grow in rotation with corn and wheat.

Since short season soybean varieties can be planted later in the spring, they can follow the winter wheat after it has been harvested. Legumes are able to provide some of their own nitrogen supply through the nodules on their roots so reducing use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Bill Beams of Elverson (courtesy of Iowa Soybean Association)
Bill Beams of Elverson (courtesy of Iowa Soybean Association)

Our state was one of the first four states chosen to produce the new high oleic soybeans – the even more healthy oil. County soybean farmer Bill Beam of Elverson chairs the Pennsylvania Soybean Board and was elected to the national United Soybean Board and was one of the farmers who planted this exciting new variety last year.

Bill reports that “Soybeans in Pa or Chester County got some good news recently as Perdue got approval of their new crush plant in Central Pennsylvania.  Construction will start in couple weeks according to my sources. They have $20 million in equipment sitting in warehouses waiting for approvals that they now have. High Oleic soybeans will also get a huge push thanks to the new plant also because Pa farmers had limited options on deliveries.”

Most of us are not aware of how dependent we are on soybeans in our food supply chain and several industrial products. We undoubtedly consume soybean oil in various forms every day in our salad dressing, cooking oil, and baked goods. It is the most widely used edible oil.

Whenever we eat chicken, ham, beef and dairy products, it is extremely likely the livestock will have consumed the other soybean product – high protein meal – as 98% of the meal is fed to pigs, chickens and cows.

There is a small market for the use of soybeans in such soyfoods as edamame, tofu and soynuts and soybean protein helps balance the nutrient deficiencies of such grains as corns and wheat which are low in the important amino acids, lysine and tryptophan. An interesting bit of trivia one acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons!

Soybeans are our most recently introduced major crop. Wheat, barley and oats came over with the early settlers from Europe who found corn being grown by the local Indians since it is native to the North American continent.

Soybeans originated in China and may have been introduced in to the American Colonies in 1765 but were not grown widely until the 1920s when the 1924 census recorded 1.8 million acres for the first time. The acreage of soybeans is forecast to be 82.2million acres this year in the 30 states growing this important crop.

Top photo credit: High Oleic Soybean Rows via photopin (license)

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