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Soybeans: The Success Story - p.4


No one factor has contributed more to the increase in production of the soybean in the U.S. than the development of new cultivars by public and private soybean breeders through the introduction of germplasm from China, Japan and Korea. Two major soybean exploration trips were undertaken by USDA scientists. From August l924 through December 1926, P. H. Dorsett collected soybean germplasm in Northeast China. He sent back to the U.S. about l500 soybean accessions. From March 1929 to February 1931, P. H. Dorsett and W.J. Morse collected soybean germplasmin Japan, Korea and China. They sent back to the U.S. about 4500 soybean accessions. Unfortunately, during the first five decades of this century the USDA was not much concerned with the preservation of soybean germplasm. Hence, many of the accessions Dorsett and Morse introduced were either discarded, or seed viability was lost due to a lack of preservation facilities.

When Bill Morse retired in 1949 he was replaced by Martin G. Weiss, who with Jackson L. Cartter of the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois, initiated the development of a comprehensive soybean germplasm collection. Since 195l, Edgar E. Hartwig has been the curator of the southem collection located at Stoneville, Mississippi. In 1954, Richard L Bernard became the curator of the northern collection located at Urbana. Today, the USDA soybean collection contains about 13,000 strains of soybeans, wild soybeans and wild perennial Glycine species (Table 1).

Table 1. USDA soybean germplasm collection and number of strains in each group, 1988.

Collection No of strains

Public Cultivars 454
FC and PI Strains 11,133
Genetic Types (T-lines) 113
Genetic Isolines 457
Wild Soybeans (G. soja) 678
Perennial Glycine species 522

The soybean germplasm collection is unique among the major crop germplasm collections in the U.S. in that the curators are first rate scientists and secondly, the collection has operated fairly independently of bureaucratic control. Unfortunately, both soybean curators are nearing retirement and will need to be replaced. The USDA should be encouraged to employ young promising research scientists to take over the curatorship reigns of Drs. Hartwig and Bernard.

In 1922, the Staley Company built the first major soybean processing facility in Decatur, Illinois. To encourage farmers to grow soybeans, several Illinois farm related groups and A. E. Staley Sr. provided a guaranteed market price for Illinois grown soybeans. By 1930, the soybean processing industry had expanded enough that it warranted the establishment of a trade organization that ultimately was named the National Soybean Processors Association.

Soybean production greatly expanded during World War II and the two decades immediately after the war. During World War II domestically produced soybean oil replaced imported fats and oils and was used to manufacture glycerin. The meal was used to increase animal production in the U.S. and used as a vegetable protein meat extender in Europe. After the war, soybeans played a vital role in the Marshall Plan and help feed millions of starving persons in third world countries. Today, soybean meal is used as a protein-rich feed in the production of eggs, poultry, pork, lamb, beef and fish. Soybean oil is converted to margarine, shortening, mayonnaise, salad oils and dressings. Two new products are soybean oil based printing inks and as a dust suppressant in grain elevators.

In 1924, about 5 million bushels of soybeans were produced in the U.S. while in 1984 almost 2 billion bushels were produced in the country. In 1924, the average yield per acre was 11.0 bushels while in 1984 the average yield per acre was 28.2 bushels. In 1924, soybeans were grown on 1.5 million acres while in 1984 soybeans were planted on 66 million acres. In 1941, the acreage harvested for beans first exceeded the acreage grown for other purposes. In the north the increase in soybean acreage came from acreage reductions in oats, hay, and barley and due to government acreage controls on wheat and com. In the south, the increase in soybean acreage came from newly cleared land and at the expense of acreage reductions for cotton, small grains and roughage. Double cropping of soybeans and wheat also contributed to acreage increases. To conclude, a popular commercial slogan best expresses the soybean success story, "We've come a long way baby."


The soybean was introduced into North America in 1765. For the next 155 years the crop was grown primarily for forage. The rise to prominence of soybeans as a grain crop started in the 1920's. In 1941, the acreage harvested for beans first exceeded the acreage grown for other purposes. The success of the soybean was due to many reasons, such as political events, the absence of government support programs, new technologies and by publicly supported agricultural scientists working in collaboration with farmers and private industry.

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