field of soybeansSoybeans

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.

Soybean harvest

Soybean research plots at the Southern Research and Outreach Center, Waseca, are harvested by combines that keep seed from each of 5,000 potential varieties separate.

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."

Yellow leaves of a soybean plant

Yellow leaves are an indication of iron chlorosis. U of M breeders and soil scientists developed varieties that are tolerant of higher pH soils where this is a problem.

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.

Testing soybeans for disease resistance

Soybean cyst nematode samples are collected from roots by gently washing away soil and debris.

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.

Soybean Uses

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.

Continue on to Sugar Beets

Major Milestones

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

Habaro1922
Chestnut1922
Milsoy1922
Soysota1922
Elton1922
MN Manchu1922
Renville1953
Traverse1965
Clay1968
Norman1969
Anoka1970
Ada1972
Steele1972
Swift1972
Wilkin1972
Evans1974
Hodgson1974
Grande1976
Hodgson 781978
McCall1978
Simpson1982
M70-1871982
Ozzie1983
Dawson1983
Chico1983
Sibley1986
Dassel1986
Glenwood1987
Kato1989
Sturdy1989
Minnatto1989
Proto1989
Kasota1990
Bert1991
Leslie1991
Agassiz1992
Lambert1992
Parker1992
Alpha1992
Hendricks1994
Faribault1994
M87-15671994
Toyopro1995
Black Kato1995
Glacier1995
Granite1995
Freeborn1995
MN 03011997
MN 13011997
UM31997
Surge1997
Stride1997
MN 14011998
MN 09011999
MN 18011999
MN 0902 CN2000