History of Soybeans
Soybeans originate from China. In 2853 BC, Emperor Sheng-Nung of
China named five sacred plants ? soybeans, rice, wheat, barley, and millet.
Soybean plants were domesticated between 17th and 11th century BC in the eastern
half of China where they were cultivated into a food crop. From about the first
century AC to the Age of Discovery (15-16th century), soybeans were introduced
into several countries such as Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam,
Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal and India. The spread of the soybean was due to
the establishment of sea and land trade routes. The earliest Japanese reference
to the soybean is in the classic Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) which was
completed in 712 AC.
The first soybeans arrived in America in the early 1800's as ballast aboard a
ship! It wasn't until 1879 that a few brave farmers began to plant soybeans as
forage for their livestock. The plants flourished in the hot, humid summer
weather characteristic of the northeastern North Carolina. Around 1900 the US
Department of Agriculture was conducting tests on soybeans and encouraging
farmers to plant them as animal feed.
In 1904, the famous American chemist, G. W. Carver discovered that soybeans are
a valuable source of protein and oil. He encouraged farmers to rotate their
crops with soybeans. To the surprise of farmers, this produced a better crop.
In 1929 Morse spent two years researching soybeans in China, where he gathered
more that 10,000 soybean varieties. It wasn't until the 1940's that farming of
soybeans really took off in America.
Although soybeans are native to southeast Asia, 55 percent of production is in
the United States . The US produced 75 million metric tons of soybeans in 2000
of which more than one-third was exported. Other leading producers of soybeans
are Argentina, Brazil, China and India. Much of the US production is either fed
to animals or exported, though US consumption of soy by people has been
increasing. Brazil is expected to become the world's biggest soybean exporter in
2004, displacing the United States from the top seat.