(BPT) – With nearly every aisle in the grocery store featuring products made from soybeans, it’s no wonder we dedicate a whole month each year to celebrating soy foods. Even so, most Americans still associate soy with the sauce that makes their rice, meats and vegetables more flavorful. Of the nearly 4 billion bushels of soybeans planted, grown and harvested each year from U.S. farmland, soy sauce accounts for less than a fraction of a percentage point. If you toss in tofu, serve up salad dressing and mix in mayo, you’re still just scratching the surface of America’s appetite for soy.
Last year, U.S. farmers harvested a record-setting 83.5 million acres of soybeans. So, where do they all go?
Some soybeans are picked early, sprinkled with sea salt and served up as a tasty snack better known as edamame. Others are used as key ingredients in energy bars and protein smoothies. Then there’s soy oil, soy flour and soy nut butter. When you add them all together, Americans spend an estimated $4.5 billion on soy foods each year.
2. Household and industrial products
But soybeans do more than satisfy our hunger. They’re also used to make crayons, carpets, candles and cleaning products. Their oil provides a renewable, nontoxic alternative to petroleum. Ditto for paints, inks, lubricants, upholstery, furniture, flooring and other building materials.
3. Animal feed and fuel
Considering their multitude of uses, is it any surprise that soybeans are known as agriculture’s “miracle crop?” Soybeans are classified as legumes, so they’re in the same category as peanuts, peas and lentils. Each little bean packs a powerful protein punch — up to 38 percent per pound. That makes them an extremely efficient and nutritious animal feed for poultry, hogs, beef and other farm animals. Soybeans are also used to make fuel for diesel engines — soy-based fuel uses renewable feedstock, and it burns cleaner than fossil fuel.
Here’s where the miracle comes in: Corn and other crops need a steady diet of nitrogen fertilizer to grow strong and healthy. Soybeans don’t. They cook up their own nitrogen, thanks to a special bacteria found in their root systems. It’s like each plant comes with its own grocery store, kitchen and chef.
Small pest, big problem
Unfortunately, these underground eateries also attract a host of uninvited guests, including soybean cyst nematodes. These are microscopic pests that burrow into soybean roots. The males of this species have a quick meal and move on. Females, on the other hand, stay longer. They eat and eat and eat, until their entire heads are embedded in the root. And then they eat some more.
Soybean cyst nematodes, or SCN for short, may start small, but they cause big damage. They cost U.S. soybean growers an estimated $1.5 billion each year. Part of the problem facing farmers is that SCN is difficult to detect and even harder to control. Researchers at Syngenta, an agribusiness company, are working on solutions. They’re breeding stronger NK Soybean varieties with built-in resistance to SCN, and they’ve developed Clariva Complete Beans seed treatment, a combination of separately registered products. Part insecticide, part nematicide, part fungicide, Clariva Complete Beans helps protect soybean roots from a whole host of creeping, crawling, damaging pests, including SCN.
That’s good news for the American consumer, whose passion for soy keeps growing. So bake a cake, light a candle, relax in your favorite easy chair or read the latest best-selling novel in celebration of National Soy Foods Month. Chances are, you’ll be enjoying products that soybeans helped make possible.