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.