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How Do U.S. Soybeans Impact Global Economics?

Key Highlights

  • Soybeans contributed a substantial $124 billion to the U.S. economy in 2022, reflecting their growing importance.
  • The soybean market, driven by U.S. production, has witnessed exponential growth, but the industry faces challenges due to its reliance on China as the primary export market.

Soybeans have emerged as a linchpin of American agriculture, significantly contributing to the U.S. economy, with a staggering $124 billion impact in 2022, as revealed by a study conducted by the National Oilseed Processors Association and the United Soybean Board. The versatility of this legume is recognized globally as it serves various purposes, encompassing food production, fuel generation, and animal feedstock.

Soybeans: A Versatile Wonder Crop

In the 1960s, soybeans were initially considered an alternative crop with limited adoption.

  • U.S. farmers soon recognized the manifold potential applications of soybeans, ranging from animal feed to protein extraction, and their value in international trade.
  • Consequently, soybean yields per acre have surged over the years, with substantial gains in productivity.
  • Meagan Kaiser, a soybean farmer and chair of the United Soybean Board, noted that the average soybean production per acre was just 31 bushels in 1980, which has now significantly increased to an average of 51 bushels and often surpasses that figure.

Global Soybean Market Explosion

The global soybean market has seen explosive growth, prominently led by U.S. production. A striking example of this phenomenon is the surge in soybean exports. In the early 2000s, all U.S. oilseed crop exports combined amounted to approximately $9 billion. By 2021, soybean exports alone reached a staggering $26.4 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Soybeans Beyond the International Market

Despite these achievements, the U.S. has faced challenges due to its reliance on a single export market, namely China, which is the world’s largest soybean importer, constituting around 60% of global soybean trade.

However, this trade relationship took a downturn in 2018 when the U.S. entered into a tariff dispute with China, where soybeans became a pivotal point of contention. As a result, China turned to Brazil for its soybean imports, transforming the South American nation into the world’s top soybean producer and exporter.

This intense international competition has compelled the American soybean market to explore alternative applications for soybeans, including their use in biofuels, renewable diesel, and bioplastics. With an evolving agricultural landscape and innovative practices, the future of soybeans in the U.S. appears poised for transformation, driven by the dynamic challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.


1. Why have soybeans become a cornerstone of the U.S. economy?

Soybeans offer versatility, serving as a crucial crop used in food, fuel, and animal feed production, contributing significantly to the economy.

2. How did soybeans transition from a niche crop to a major agricultural product in the U.S.?

Over time, U.S. farmers recognized the potential of soybeans for animal feed, protein use, and export value, leading to increased soybean yields.

3. What role did China play in the U.S. soybean market, and how did it change?

China became the largest importer of U.S. soybeans, but a tariff dispute in 2018 shifted China’s focus to Brazil, making it the world’s top soybean producer and exporter.

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