Soybeans and corn are the dominant crops in Minnesota, with almost equal amounts grown — over 7 million acres each — and harvest values of between one and two billion dollars each. Soybeans were grown in China for more than 5,000 years, as corn was cultivated by Native Americans. U.S. farmers grew soybeans in the late 1800s for cattle forage, and in the 1920s began harvesting them for seeds.
University varieties released in the 1920s and 30s were selected from similar latitudes in China and Korea, and tested at U of M Agricultural Experiment Stations in Waseca and Morris. However, their 1932 annual report saw limited potential: "The soybean crop has an important function in Southern Minnesota agriculture as an annual or emergency hay crop in case of clover hay failure."
By 1940, southern Minnesota farmers planted 251,000 acres of beans that yielded 15 bushels per acre. Now, yields average 41 bushels an acre thanks to breeders, plant disease experts, and soil scientists that adapted the crop to Minnesota.
In 1946 a U of M plant breeder was hired to develop varieties tailored to Minnesota, the most northerly state in the Corn Belt. By the 1970s, 20 varieties were released and plant pathologists and breeders began developing plants resistant to the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), a major pest that invaded southern counties. Another measure of breeders' success in bringing the soybean north is that 16% of the Minnesota crop is now exported through Duluth; none went through that northern port 15 years ago.
Soybeans were recognized by the legislature in 1960 with funding to expand genetics and physiology work. In 1965 farmers began supporting research via the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. The three-way partnership has made Minnesota research, varieties and products worldwide commodities.
Soybeans are processed into two major components, protein and oil, and a third minor category of whole soybean products. More than 50% of the world's protein comes from this crop. Soybeans are an excellent protein source since each seed contains 40% protein, compared with other legumes - 25% - and cereal grains with about 12% protein. Most soy products are consumed by livestock.
Soybean Protein and Meal Products
Poultry, swine, beef, dairy, and pet food. Flour, meat substitute, soymilk, baby formula, pharmaceuticals, adhesives.
Soybean Oil Products
Cooking oil, margarine, salad dressing, biodiesel, dust control, printing ink, glycerol, fatty acids, sterols, lecithin.
Whole Soybean Products (less than 1%)
Sprouts, roasted soy nuts, tofu, soy sauce.
The University develops soybeans that compete in world markets. 'Chico' and 'Grande' represent two extremes in size, but represent Minnesota's almost one billion dollars of beans exported annually.
- RENVILLE, 1953, first release adapted from a U of Illinois population, adapted to central and south-central Minnesota.
- EVANS, 1974, popular variety for decades, still grown in U.S. and Europe. In mid 90s occupied 57% of bean acres in north and west-central Minnesota.
- McCALL, 1978, earliest maturity of any U of M release, still popular.
- GRANDE, 1976, largest seeded release, 22 grams/100 seeds vs 16 for regular beans. Developed specifically for soy flake breakfast food.
- CHICO, 1983, first of the small seeded types, 50% smaller than average, bred for specialty products — sprouts and miso. Followed by 'Minnatto' and 'UM-3'.
- STURDY, 1989, latest maturing bean from U of M program for most southern Minnesota.
- PROTO, 1989, first high protein variety for special uses such as tofu.
- TOYOPRO, 1995, higher protein, export market for tofu and soymilk.
U of M Soybean Varieties
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