History of Soy
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
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.
No of strains
FC and PI Strains
Genetic Types (T-lines)
Wild Soybeans (G. soja)
Perennial Glycine species
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
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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