History of Soybean Cultivation (270 BCE to 2020)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-21-2

Publication Date: 2020 July 9

Number of References in Bibliography: 7240

Earliest Reference: 270 BCE

Click here to download the full text to open and read book History of Soybean Cultivation (270 BCE to 2020)

Brief Chronology/Timeline of History of Soybean Cultivation

270 BCE – Fairly specific information about soybean cultivation is given in the Shennong shu (Book of Shennong) in China. The section titled "Discourse on the eight types of grains" states that soybeans (dadou) grow among the locust trees (hui; Sophora japonica). They live among the marshy valleys. They flower in 90 days and mature 60 days after that; so one can harvest them 150 days after planting.

544 CE – The Chinese book Qimin Yaoshu (Important Arts for the People’s Welfare), by Jia Sixie, gives early information about planting and harvesting soybeans.

1767 May – Samuel Bowen of Georgia is the first to note that soybeans (Chinese vetches) may be made into hay. He says: “These vetches are also of great use in warm countries where grass is scarce, as you may soon raise most excellent fodder for your cattle, which may be given to them either green or made into hay, and not thrashed” (Gentleman’s Magazine (London)).

1854 Jan. 21 – T.E. Wetmore, says of harvesting the Japan pea [soybean]: “But there is another drawback which would debar its general cultivation as a field crop. Its stems are quite large and hard as wood, so that to harvest a field of Japan Peas would be about as easy as to harvest a field of brush” (Moore’s Rural New Yorker).

1874 Feb. – The American Agriculturist recommends “plowing under” soybeans for use as green manure.

1874 May – The American Agriculturist describes storage of soybeans. “To save seed, the top of the plant is taken as it ripens first, and it must be stored in an airy place immediately after cutting, else the sun will pop open the pods.”

1877 March – The term “green manuring” is first used in connection with soybeans (American Agriculturist)

1879 March 15 – W. Hecke, writing in German, is the first to mention the soybean as part of a crop rotation.

1880 April 1 – E.-A. Carriere in France is the first to write that the soybean can be made into silage. He states: Mr. Jules-Robert of Seelowitz, in Moravia, cultivates it on a very large scale (30 hectares or more each year). He lets some of the plants ripen / mature for harvest as seeds (soybeans); he cuts the others before they mature and mixes them with corn (maïs), then ensiles the mixture in a semi-dry state (Journal d’Agriculture Pratique. p. 479-83).

1880 – Earliest document seen that mentions intercropping in connection with soybeans is published in German in the Schweizerische Landwirthschaftliche Zeitschrift. However the practice is said to have been practiced centuries earlier in East Asia

To intercrop is to grow a crop among plants of a different kind, often in the space between the rows.

1900 – The term “cover crops” (or “cover crop”) is first used in connection with soja beans. Cover crops are typically planted to prevent erosion, as in orchards.

1918 Oct. – “The production of soy beans in North Carolina exceeds a million bushels a year. To harvest the crop, special machines have been invented by the farmers themselves.

“The harvesters thresh the beans from the vines as they stand in the field. Five types of harvesters are made by farmers in North Carolina, but a beater with fingers is common to all the machines. The beater gathers the beans from the growing stalks. Its operation varies according to the type of harvester. Some beaters revolve parallel to the row; others at right angles to the row. Some harvesters are carried on mowing-machine wheels and others on common cart-wheels. In some the beaters are driven by chains; in others by gears.

“L.S. Gordon, a farmer of Elizabeth City, invented the first one…” (Popular Science Monthly, p. 84).

1941 – “… it was not until 1941 that as many acres of soybeans in the U.S. were harvested for seed as were grown for forage” (Edgar Hartwig, personal communication, 2 Nov. 1981)

1950 Sept. – In “Soybeans for hay and beans” (Farmer’s Bulletin No. 2024), Morse, Cartter and Hartwig write: “Soybean hay is a little more difficult to cure than hay from other legumes but may be handled successfully by practically the same methods. It requires thorough curing before being stacked, housed, or baled, since danger of molding occurs when the hay is stored too soon after a rain or baled too green.”

1955 Aug. – Ruth Stout, an organic gardener, is the first to describe how to grow soybeans organically. Also that year, J.I. Rodale, who started the organic gardening and farming movement in America, describes in more detail how to grow soybeans in his book Organic Gardening.

1957 Dec. – The term “minimum tillage” is first used in connection with soybeans. This is the earliest document seen about reduced tillage and soybeans (Soybean News, p. 1, 4).

Farmers used to till fields before planting soybeans to loosen the soil for planting and to bring weed seeds to the soil’s surface, where they could sprout. But this process caused extensive erosion. In the various minimum tillage or “no-till” systems, plowing was replaced by use of herbicides. In no-till, runoff of herbicides into water can be a problem.

1967 Jan. – The terms “mulch till” and “conventional tillage” are first used in connection with soybeans (Agronomy Journal, p. 31-33).

1967 Nov. – “Flame weeding” is a new method of destroying weeds. It was developed by “William F. Lalor and Wesley F. Buchele, agricultural engineers at Iowa State University” (Soybean Digest, p. 7).

1968 April – The terms “no till” and “no tillage” are first used in connection with soybeans (Soybean Digest, p. 26).

1970 Aug. – “The U.S. soybean economy expanded phenomenally during the 1950's and 1960's. Output and usage increased at an average annual rate of about 9%, more than double the average growth rate for all U.S. industries.”

"Soybean production rose from about 300 million bushels in 1950 to 1,117 million in 1969 – an increase of 273%. Most of the gain reflected the tripling of harvested acreage from 13.8 million to 40.9 million. Yields increased only gradually from 21.7 bu/a to 27.3 bu/a.

“The farm value of soybean production rose from $700 million in 1950 (ranking sixth among cash crops) to $2.6 billion in 1969 (ranking second only to corn). Soybeans have been second among cash crops since 1964” (Soybean Digest, p. 102).

Note: Soybean yields rose slowly compared with those of grain during the 20th century. This is largely because the soybean devotes much of its metabolic energy to fixing nitrogen in the soil and to producing large amounts of high-quality protein. Grains use their metabolic energy to produce mostly carbohydrates.

1970Modern Soybean Production, by Walter O. Scott and S.A. Aldrich is published. Both are professors at the Univ. of Illinois. It soon comes to be widely used. A 2nd edition is published in 1983.

1971 July – Eden Foods, Inc. of Ann Arbor, Michigan, introduces the earliest known commercial soy product, Eden Soybeans, in which organically grown soybeans are in a commercial product. These yellow soybeans were grown in Michigan.

1975Whereby We Thrive: A History of American Farming, 1607-1972, by John T. Schlebecker, includes an excellent history of soybean cultivation and equipment such as the tractor and combine.

1976 Sept. – The term “reduced tillage” is first used (Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America, p. 289-91).

1981 Feb – The term conservation tillage” is first used in connection with soybeans (Soybean Digest, p. 11).

1981 Dec. – The earliest known document that mentions sustainable agriculture in connection with soybean production is published in Slovenia (Stele, Dec. 6).

1987 Jan. – The term “global positioning system (GPS) is first used in connection with soybeans, and with it the new field of precision agriculture (Soybean Digest).

1988 Jan. – The term “ridge till” is first used in connection with soybeans.

1989 June – Earliest known mention of USDA’s Low-Input/Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) program.

1997 Dec. – “For the first time, conservation tillage has passed conventional tillage in total U.S. acres” (Soybean Digest, p. 34).

Note: This statement applies to all crops, not just soybeans.

Click here to download the full text to open and read book History of Soybean Cultivation (270 BCE to 2020)