The soybean

The origin of the grain:

The first reference to soybeans as food dates back more than 5.000 years. The grain was quoted and described by the Chinese emperor Shen-nung, considered the “father” of Chinese agriculture, who started growing grains as an alternative to slaughtering animals.

One of the main indications attesting to the cultural and nutritional importance of soybeans to the Chinese is the fact that already in the years 200 BC the grain was the essential raw material for the production of tofu (curdled soy milk), having represented vegetable protein, milk, cheese, bread and oil for the Chinese for thousands of years. Moreover, soy was a kind of coin because it was sold in cash or exchanged for other commodities.

Five millennia ago soybeans are very different from the soybeans we know today: they were underground plants that developed along rivers and lakes – a kind of wild soybeans. The process of “domestication” of soybeans occurred in the 11th century BC, from natural crosses made by Chinese scientists. At the moment, soy was found mainly in the eastern region of northern China, where winter wheat was grown.

From there, soybeans begin to be introduced in South China, going to Korea, Japan and other countries of present Southeast Asia. Historical records indicate that the expansion of soybean cultivation was slow: it would have arrived in Korea and it would have reached Japan in the third century after Christ (AC) – until then restricted to China. In the West, the grain appears in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, the time of so-called great European navigation.

The adoption of soybeans as food is slow in the West. In the eighteenth century, European researchers began studies with soybean sprouts as a raw material for the production of oil and animal nutrients. Commercial cultivation began in the early twentieth century in the United States, and in the second decade of the twentieth century the oil and protein content of the grain began to attract the attention of the world’s industries.

It was after the end of World War I in 1919 that the soybean grain became an important foreign trade item. The year 1921, when the American Soybean Association (ASA) is founded, can be considered as the landmark of the consolidation of the soy production chain in the world sphere.

Arrival in Brazil:

Although there are historical records that point to experimental soybean cultivation in Bahia as early as 1882, the introduction of soybeans in Brazil has the year 1901 as the main milestone: it is when the crops are started at Campinas Agricultural Station and the distribution of seeds to producers in São Paulo. The grain began to be more easily found in the country after the intensification of Japanese migration in the years 1908. In 1914, it is officially introduced in Rio Grande do Sul – a state that presents similar climatic conditions to the producing regions in the United States (origin of first cultivars, until 1975).

The expansion of soybeans in Brazil begins even in the 1970s, when the oil industry begins to expand. The increase in international demand for grain is another factor that contributes to the beginning of commercial and large-scale soybean farming.

The expansion of soybean plantations in Brazil has always been associated with the rapid development of technologies and research focused on meeting external demand. So much so that in the 70’s soybeans were already the main culture of national agribusiness: production had gone from 1.5 million tons in 1970 to more than 15 million tons in 1979. It is important to note that this expansion since that beginning was intrinsically and not necessarily in the area (from 1.3 million hectares to 8.8 million hectares in the decade). Productivity rates in this period went from 1.14 t / ha to 1.73 t / ha.

One of the important agents of this process of evolution of Brazilian soybean was Embrapa, which has developed since that period new cultivars adapted to the climatic conditions of producing regions, such as the Midwest. Embrapa Soja was created in 1975, and from the 90’s various research agencies began to emerge to act in the segment.

The introduction of soybean beyond the southern states was only possible due to the development of cultivars adapted to the warmer climate. The adoption of no-tillage technique also contributed to grain insertion in agriculture in the Midwest, Northeast and North regions. The fact that soybean allows the fixation of nutrients essential for the planting of other crops, such as beans and maize, was a positive aspect for its expansion in Brazil, since it allowed the adoption of a productive off-season.

The development of herbicide tolerant cultivars arrives in Brazil in 1995, when the Federal Government approves the Biosafety Law, allowing the cultivation of transgenic soybean plants on an experimental basis. The law is updated in 2005, definitively regulating the planting and commercialization of transgenic cultivars in Brazil.

This process of consolidation of soybeans in the country was fundamental for the development of an entire productive chain, including private and public investments in storage structures, grain processing units and modalities for transportation and export of soybeans and their derivatives. In addition, Brazilian soybean allowed a greater commercial viability for livestock activity, due to the fact that it is a strategic raw material for the production of animal feed for cattle, swine and poultry.

Another positive consequence of sojicultura in Brazil was the process of urban development of the municipalities linked to culture, mainly in the North, Northeast and Midwest of the Country.

Soybean Use:

The soybean crop provided a major food revolution. Today there is no other protein of vegetable origin with better cost benefit for the production of meats, eggs, milks and derivatives than soy. The demand for animal protein has grown substantially in the last decades and will continue to grow, mainly thanks to the income improvement of people in Asian countries. Therefore, in addition to guaranteeing animal protein in large quantities and at affordable prices to Brazilians, soy is also important for the food security of many other nations.

Soy is present when you eat a fried egg, potato chips, since most of the vegetable oil in the country comes from soy. Of this same vegetable oil, more than 70% of the raw material has been produced to produce Brazilian biodiesel, today in a mixture of 10% in the national diesel, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to grain as a functional food, soybeans are used for the production of products such as chocolate, ready-made spices and pasta. Meat products also often contain soy in their composition, as well as mixtures for beverages, baby food and many diet foods.

Soy-based products are indicated for individuals with milk sugar intolerance. Industries from different sectors use soybeans as raw materials in their production processes. Example: cosmetics, pharmaceutical, veterinary, paints and plastics industries. Soy is also widely used by the industry of adhesives and nutrients, fertilizers, foamer formulator, fiber manufacture, coating and paper water emulsion for paints.