Soybeans are a widely cultivated pea plant that have many uses. Soybeans are a source of protein in things like soy milk and tofu, they provide us with oils and animal feed, and they also have industrial uses. The production of soybeans has risen dramatically over the last two decades. World soybean production has doubled in the past twenty to twenty-five years. This is due to a rising demand for meat and biofuels, and also to a growing demand for soy products that we eat as a form of protein.
From 2012 to 2020, the largest soybean producing countries were the US, Brazil, Argentina, China, Paraguay, India, and Canada, in that order. Here is a brief look at each national industry.
In May of 2020, Brazil surpassed the US to become the world’s top producer of soybeans. Between 2019 and 2020, this country produced 124 million metric tons of soybeans. Other top countries like the US are said to already be using the most land they can to grow soybeans. Brazil has been in the unique position of being able to expand its soybean farming, and as such, is racing ahead in production.
Soybeans currently come second to only corn as the top agricultural crops produced in the US. Is this because everyone is going wild for tofu burgers, and popping edamame like it’s their last meal? Unfortunately, the answer to that is, no. One of the main reasons growing soybeans is so popular worldwide and in the US is that they are used to feed animals. Yes, your future poultry, beef, and fish are chowing down on this bean as you read this article. Over 70% of the soybeans grown in the US are turned into animal feed, and just 15% is produced for human consumption. About 5% is used for biodiesel, and the rest is exported.
According to Statistica.com, up until 2019, the US was the leading global producer of soybeans, producing 120.52 million metric tons of the stuff between 2018 and 2019.
In 2019-2020, Argentina produced 51 million metric tons of soybean. This country is a massive producer of soybean for biodiesel, producing 60% of the global demand in 2015. A US government report on soybean production in Argentina written in 2019 predicted soybean production will decline by about 3% in this country in 2020. Part of the stability of soybean production in Argentina hinges on the country’s political situation, and sudden inflation devalued the Argentine peso in 2018/2019. Should the political scene remain somewhat stable, soybean production in Argentina should continue on its present course.
The Future of Soybean Production
It is expected that soybean production will continue to grow in the coming decades.The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that soybean production will continue to rise considerably in the future, going from about 276 million metric tons in 2013 to 390 metric tons globally by 2050. Russia and China are major producers of soy, but these countries consume most of the crop grown within the confines of their own borders.
Other countries like Brazil produce their soybean product for local consumption and also for export. In Brazil’s case, this is contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest as the demand for soy is high. Over 60,000 square kilometers in a forested area known as the Cerrado were cleared for agriculture between 2003 and 2015, and about one fifth of this land has been used to grow soybeans. Balance is needed going forth in agriculture in order to keep soybean production sustainable for future generations, worldwide, and to protect ecosystems that need safeguarding.