Soybeans: How Mother Nature Helps Quality and Value

    Protein and oil are what your customers demand, so high amounts of those components are what make soybeans more valuable. Here’s a look at how soybean plants produce those components to make them worth more.

    Through a series of chemical reactions, a bacterial enzyme in soybean root nodules converts nitrogen gas found in the atmosphere into different nitrogen compounds that can be used by the developing soybean plant, including producing protein and storing it in the seed.

    This process begins early in seedling development. When the plant dies, it releases the remaining nitrogen back into the soil for subsequent crops. By taking nitrogen from the air, this process turns a resource thats’ free to the farmer into a very valuable commodity.

    Oil is also the product of a free, but fickle, resource: the weather. Where protein is built up over an entire growing season, oil production happens late in the year on warm and sunny autumn days. Soybeans grown in cool and cloudy conditions are likely to have lower oil levels.


    “Protein and oil are the most valuable parts of the soybean, but they’re also the parts that make up the yield of the soybean,” says Seth Naeve, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. “So depositing more oil and more protein on an acre basis gives us more yield. Figuring out how to make more of those gives us more profit.”

    What you can do

    So now that you know how the plant produces protein and oil, you can increase the levels in your crop. Here are four ways:

    1. Select varieties that will produce higher levels of protein and oil, or ask your seed dealer for them.
    2. Maturity group is important, too – growing the correct maturity will help ensure the plant experiences optimum weather conditions at the right growth stages.
    3. Minimizing stress at crucial times in the growth cycle allows the plant to focus on quality. So be on the lookout for insects that chew on leaves and diseases such as sudden death syndrome.
    4. Improving root health and organic matter in the soil gives the plant a better nitrogen reserve for when the bacteria start to die off at end of the year.


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