Soybeans, a popular legume plant originating in eastern Asia, are gaining much traction among vegans, vegetarians, and health-conscious people. The reason is its high protein and essential amino acid content. While this superfood supplements many people’s diets, only a few know how soybeans are produced and delivered to consumers in edible form.
Soybeans undergo a long process of cultivation before they can be safely consumed. Moreover, the soybean’s journey from the farm to the table includes the undeniable efforts of farmers, processors, distributors, manufacturers, and retailers. This journey ensures a continuous supply of soybean products to consumers that can be used for various purposes.
Therefore, the entire journey of soybeans from the farm to one’s table is fascinating, involving various steps and players. So, this post has traced this journey step-by-step for you.
The initial and most important process of soybean food production begins on the farms where the U.S. soybean farmers and producers cultivate soybeans. Soybeans are primarily grown in states like Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, etc.
The farmers carefully select land for cultivation, considering factors like drainage, soil types, water and sunlight availability, soil pH, etc. Based on their selection, they prepare the soil making it favorable for soybean’s healthy growth. This step includes removing existing vegetation, soil tilling, removal of debris and weeds, etc.
Next, they carefully select high-quality soybean seeds for planting, which usually takes place during the spring when there is no risk of frost. Farmers use special equipment to sow the seeds maintaining appropriate spacing and depth.
Further, they conduct crop management practices like irrigation, fertilization, weed control, pest and disease management, crop rotation, etc., to nurture and protect the crop throughout the growing season.
Growing healthy soybean harvests that contribute to the journey of soybeans from farm to table depends heavily on farmers’ experience and understanding of crop management techniques.
Once the soybean plants reach maturity, farmers prepare the crops for harvesting. This process involves monitoring the soybean’s moisture content, which aids in determining the optimal time for harvesting.
Generally, soybeans are harvested when their moisture content is near about 13 to 15% to prevent spoilage during storage. Timing of soybean harvesting is crucial in determining the quality of the plant.
Drying and yellowing of leaves indicate that the crops have reached their maximum size and have low moisture content. Now they are suitable for storage and processing.
Using specialized machinery like combine harvesters, they collect the matured soybean plants and put them into the machinery for processing. This machinery conducts threshing and separation where the pods and stems are separated. In short, the beans are now separated from the other plant parts and are ready for cleaning.
These soybeans are then transferred to a vehicle for transportation that would carry them to the storage facilities.
Processing of Soybeans
After harvesting, the soybeans are sent to the concerned processing facility within the farm’s vicinity for better access. In this process, soybeans undergo different stages for extracting edible soy goods.
- Cleaning and sorting: To remove contaminants like dirt, stems, and leaves, the soybeans are carefully cleaned. Beans that are damaged or discolored are removed using sorting procedures.
- Crushing and oil extraction: The soybeans are crushed next to separate the oil from the solids. Oil is extracted using mechanical or solvent-based techniques in a process known as oil extraction. High-quality soybean oil is created by further refining the extracted oil.
- Meal production: Soybean meal is a valuable by-product from the solids left behind after oil extraction. It is high in protein and widely utilized as animal feed in the poultry and cattle sectors.
The processed soybean products are shipped to various locations, which comprises sending soybean meal and oil to local and foreign markets. Depending on the destination, transportation may take place by trucks, railways, barges, or ships.
Distribution and Manufacturing
Now, manufacturers, food processors, and merchants receive soybean oil and meal. In many food items, including cooking oils, margarine, salad dressings, and processed meals, soybean oil is used. Animal feed formulas must contain soybean meal as a key component.
Retail and Consumption
The final destination of the U.S. soybeans is at the consumer’s table. Customers buy items that include soybean foods like soybean oil, processed soyfoods, etc. Soybean oil is a versatile oil popularly utilized by many households for cooking.
It has a high nutritional value, high-smoke point, neutral taste, etc. Similar processed forms of soybean include chunks, soymilk, tofu, edamame, etc. These are high sources of plant protein and essential amino acids forming a significant part of vegan and vegetarian diets. Due to its versatility, affordability, and wide availability, consumers highly prefer soybean foods.
Soybean meal plays a huge role in animal agriculture. The poultry and livestock industries heavily depend on soybean meal, a by-product of soybean oil extraction. It is also used by the livestock and poultry sectors to feed animals, which helps to produce meat, dairy products, and eggs.
Various nations across the world import U.S. soybeans and soybean products. These exports contribute significantly to the world’s food systems and satiate the demand for soybeans on world markets.
The intricate link between farmers, processors, distributors, manufacturers, and consumers is best shown by the journey of U.S. soybeans. It highlights the significant role that soybeans play in the food business, serving as a source of nutritious and adaptable ingredients for a range of food items and positively impacting the world’s food systems.
Through this journey, U.S. soybeans travel from the farms where they are cultivated to tables worldwide, nourishing people and supporting diverse culinary traditions. The journey of U.S. soybeans is a testament to the collaboration and innovation within the agricultural and food sectors, ensuring a sustainable and reliable supply of soybean products for consumers worldwide.