The 21st century belongs to soybeans

Get excited: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's long-term projections are out! They tell us the future of the land, more or less, and the trade of foodstuffs between nations. There are lots of interesting takeaways from this year's edition. Among them, the prospects for the humble soybean, which is becoming more important every year that goes by. Trade in soybeans came from almost nothing to overtake wheat and coarse grains (like corn and oats) over the past couple decades, and is expected to continue pulling away:


Soybeans triumphant. (US Department of Agriculture)

In large part, that's happening because the soybean can do almost anything. Crushed into meal, it's a highly nutritious feedstock for beef cattle, which are increasingly being reared in confined environments rather than out on the range. Processed into oil, it can fuel vehicles in the form of biodiesel, or be used in any number of different industrial compounds. As a protein, it can serve as a base for a huge variety of food for humans, including (but very much not limited to) tofu and tempeh. Accordingly, demand is coming largely from Asian countries, especially China, which is expected to prioritize wheat production rather than soy over the next decade:


China will buy all your soybeans. (US Department of Agriculture)

That's already been driving up soy prices, which has made it a more attractive crop for U.S. farmers, who've been switching from corn in droves. You might even say that soybeans are the chicken of the staple grains and legumes -- the birds are another big winner of the USDA's projections, having overtaken beef and pork long ago as well.


Chicken: It's what's for dinner. (USDA)
Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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