​Vegans Rejoice: Soybeans are More American than the Hamburger

Joel Anderson |

What do you think of when you think “American?” Beef? Apple pie? Baseball? Sure, those all make sense. But what about soy? Now you may be starting to wrinkle your nose a little bit.

When you think soybeans, you tend to think East Asia, which is fair, as that’s where they originated. You also might think edamame and tofu - not exactly the classic all-American fair.

Well, what if I told you that there are actually few things as “American” in this day and age as the good old soybean? That the reality is, America is as much about soybeans as it is any of those American classics listed above? Well, much as it may buck any sense of what’s tradition, it happens to be true.

America’s Cash Crop

Corn is still America’s number one crop. American farmers grew over $50 billion of the grain in 2014. However, number two on that list by a wide margin is soybeans, with a $40 billion annual yield. And if you start to consider the amount of acreage committed to each crop, things get interesting. Corn in 2014 saw 83.8 million acres harvested, a slight decrease but still the fifth highest area since 1944.

Soybeans, however, hit a record high of 84.1 million acres after a 7.4 million acre year-over-year increase. The growth can be attributed to the use of soybeans as feed for livestock, a use for which they’re ideal, due to their high levels of protein.

Americans, for the most part, tend to not be aware of just how powerful an economic engine our agriculture sector really is. It’s possibly due, in part, to how sparsely populated the parts of the country are where most of this output comes from. Regardless, growing corn and soybeans is one of the things the United States does best.

Unlike corn, though, soybeans are a relative latecomer to the scene.

Introduced from Asia…aaaaand Sent Right Back

Soybeans originally came from East Asia, where they’ve been an essential staple crop for almost 10,000 years. They didn’t arrive in North America until 1765, when Samuel Bowen, an East India Company sailor, brought them over from China. It was little known or used until Dr. Charles Piper and William Morse, the father of modern soybean agriculture in the United States, began to help farmers understand their value.

Of course, anyone familiar with the broader agricultural export economy in this day and age may find that a little ironic.

While the United States currently imports a great deal of, well, everything from China will exporting, well, not a lot to anyone, there is one area where we buck that trend rather distinctly...and it’s soybeans. The United States is actually one of the world’s largest producers, despite getting that late start, producing some 89.5 million metric tons a year. That’s about 36% of the global crop, and just 500,000 metric tons a year behind Brazil, the world’s leading producer.

What’s more, the bulk of those are going to (you guessed it) China. China has, over the last 10-15 years, become the largest importer of soybeans in the entire world by a long shot, and only looks to keep growing, with total imports projected to rise by 31% to 137 million tons by 2020/21.

Put those two together and that makes for a ton of American-grown soybeans heading across the Pacific to China.

Buy American, Buy Soy

We might not be in the habit of thinking of soybeans as being fundamentally American. We might be forgiven for that fact as it’s a relatively recent development. But, make no beans about it, America is in the soybean business and in it big. In it so big that the country that originally grew them as a crop is now importing massive amounts from us.

So, take today, National Bean Day, to think on how the ability to grow soybeans is a big part of our economy. Then, come the Fourth of July, maybe try having a soy burger instead of a beef burger.

No, sorry, strike that last one. That’s insane. Have a beef burger, for God’s sake, just remember it was probably fed soybeans while you eat it.Vegans Rejoice: Soybeans are More American than the Hamburger

What do you think of when you think “American?” Beef? Apple pie? Baseball? Sure, those all make sense. But what about soy? Now you may be starting to wrinkle your nose a little bit.

When you think soybeans, you tend to think East Asia, which is fair, as that’s where they originated. You also might think edamame and tofu - not exactly the classic all-American fair.

Well, what if I told you that there are actually few things as “American” in this day and age as the good old soybean? That the reality is, America is as much about soybeans as it is any of those American classics listed above? Well, much as it may buck any sense of what’s tradition, it happens to be true.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer

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