Pod to Plate: The journey of Illinois soybeans

From pod to plate, soybeans are a multipurpose commodity. Follow the journey of soybeans from the moment a seed is planted into the ground.

Enter: The Farmer

The farmer will use a tractor and planter to plant the soybean seeds. To make sure seeds are planted at the right depth and spacing, farmers use settings on the planter and computers in the planter.

As the Soybeans Grow

Soybean plants grow very quickly. In the heat of the summer, they can grow up to an inch per day! Plants need four things to grow: air, water, sunlight and nutrients from the soil. In the summer, small flowers, called blossoms, bloom on the plants. Once pollinated, these blossoms will turn into pods. Each plant will have 60-80 pods and each pod typically contains three soybeans.

As the soybeans grow, farmers watch for pests that can damage the plants. Insects eat the leaves, stems and roots. Weeds steal nutrients and water away from the soybeans. Plants can even get diseases. To keep plants healthy, farmers can use insecticides to control insects, herbicides to control weeds, and fungicides to control disease. A healthy plant produces more soybeans!

Harvesting the Beans

In the fall, the soybean plants reach the end of their lifecycle. They turn from green to brown and the leaves fall off. The beans inside the pod begin to dry and harden. When this happens, the soybeans are ready to harvest! Farmers use large machines called combines to cut the stems and separate the soybeans from the pods.

Where Do Soybeans Go?

Once the soybeans are harvested, semi-trucks or large wagons take the soybeans to grain bins that hold the beans. These bins can be on a farm or at a grain elevator. From there, the soybeans are sold to companies that will make them into things we use every day!

Many of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are sold and exported to other countries. Trains, barges and ships carry soybeans from where they are grown to countries all over the world. The rest of the soybeans are used here in the U.S.

Soybeans are usually broken apart, or processed, before they are used. Soybeans are a renewable and environmentally friendly ingredient in many things:

  • Soybean meal (a popular high-protein animal feed made from heating and grinding soybeans)
  • Soup
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Peanut butter
  • Salad dressing
  • Snacks
  • Chocolate
  • Tofu
  • Soy burgers
  • Soy milk
  • Soy sauce
  • Crayons
  • Paint
  • Ink

Soybeans also provide useful oil. The soybean oil is squeezed out of the meal. Large trucks, busses, tractors and combines use fuel made from soybean oil called biodiesel. Biodiesel is better for the air because it burns cleaner than regular diesel.

Illinois farmers take pride in growing food, fuel and fiber for other people. They work hard to protect the land around them for their families and yours. You can learn more from the Illinois Soybean Association here.