The topic to be discussed today is the incredible edible soybean. To properly introduce this subject, it is appropriate to highlight the agriculture industry in Mississippi. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce estimates that agriculture is worth more than $7 billion to the Mississippi economy. Approximately twenty-nine percent of the Mississippi workforce is directly or indirectly employed by the agriculture industry.
The top five agriculture commodities in Mississippi include chicken and egg production ($2.99 billion), forestry ($1.25 billion), soybeans ($1.06 billion), cotton ($623 million), and corn ($351 million). While agriculture in Pontotoc County does not include chicken and egg production, the other commodities are ranked in the same order.
Pontotoc County Row Crops
I will turn my attention to the discussion of traditional row crops grown in Pontotoc County. Cotton was the primary crop grown in Pontotoc County for many years. This began to change in the 1950’s and in the 1960’s. A reduction in the agriculture labor force, the entrance of the boll weevil, and low prices forced cotton farmers to look for other options.
Soybeans began to take the place of cotton as the number one agriculture row crop grown in Pontotoc County in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The expanding soybean market created a less labor-intensive crop option that could be grown by Pontotoc County farmers. The eradication of the boll weevil, improved harvesting and handling technologies, and improved cotton prices have caused a rebound in cotton production in recent years.
In 2019, row crops were grown on 34,919 Pontotoc County acres. Soybeans accounted for much of this total with 23,749 acres. Cotton was grown on 6,504 acres. Corn was grown 4,666 acres.
When the soybean market was beginning to develop, animal feed was the primary use. Scientists effectively expanded the market by finding uses for the large amounts of protein, fats, and oils contained in soybeans.
Soybeans contain thirty-eight percent protein and eighteen percent oil. Soybeans are processed into either soybean meal or soybean oil. A sixty-pound bushel of soybeans will produce approximately forty-seven pounds of soybean meal and eleven pounds of soybean oil.
Eighty percent of soybeans are ground into soybean meal. Animal feed accounts for ninety-seven percent of the soybean meal that is produced. The other three percent of the soybean meal produced is used to make human food products including soymilk, soy flour, tofu, and other alternatives to animal protein.
The remaining twenty percent of the soybeans produced are crushed to make soybean oil. Sixty-eight percent of the soybean oil produced is used in the processing and manufacture of food products used by humans. Soybean oil is used in vegetable cooking oils, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and in margarine. Twenty-five percent of soybean oil is used to manufacture biodiesel and bio-heating oils. The remaining seven percent of soybean oil is used for industrial products including paints, cleaners, and adhesives.
Soybeans are an interesting and important agriculture product that is grown by the great farmers of Pontotoc County. Be thankful for these farmers when you use one of the many products that contain soy.
Sources for this article include publications from the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the USDA Farm Service Agency in Pontotoc County, and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.