soybean diagramWhat are soybeans?

Soybean Plant

Soybean plants can grow up to 6 feet tall, and they produce pods that hold 3-4 seeds or beans.

The soybean plant is called a legume because it collects nitrogen from the air and releases it back into the soil. This is important for growing healthy crops and maintaining soil quality. A nodule is a small bump on the roots of a plant.

Soybean Seed Pod

Soybeans grow in pods similar to peas. During the summer, the soybean plant flowers and produces 60 to 80 pods. Soybeans range in color from very light yellow to shades of gray, brown, and black.

Soybean Seed

Two to four pea-size beans grow in each soybean pod. The seeds may be yellow, green, brown, or black.


History of Soybeans

farmer inspecting soybeans in the fieldWhere did soybeans come from? Soybeans are not native to Iowa, meaning that they were not found growing here first. Most agree that soybeans came from China originally.

Soybeans were grown first in America in the 19th century, and were not grown in Iowa until the 20th century. At first, soybeans were grown as feed for livestock (animals). Then, scientists discovered that the soybean had many uses for people. Then planting soybeans really took off!

You can find more detailed information about the history of soybeans on the Iowa Soybean Association website.

Soybeans Today

farmer stands in soybean field

The United States is growing more than 76.5 million acres of soybeans; we are first in the world for Soybean production. Soybeans are an important crop for Iowa as well as the United States. In 2001 U.S. farmers surpassed a milestone in agriculture history by exporting more than 1 billion bushels of soybeans. Today farmers in more than 30 states grow soybeans, making soybeans the United States second largest crop in cash sales.

Interesting Facts about Soybeans:

  • 1 acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons
  • 1 acre of soybeans produce 2,500 gallons of soy milk
  • Soybean oil produces friendly fuel for diesel engines
  • More soybeans grow in the United States than anywhere else in the world.


illustration of products made from soybeansUses of Soybeans

  • Edible: Baby food or formula, bakery products, medicines, candies, canned foods, cereals, diet food products, frozen dinners, frozen pizza, hot dogs, hypo-allergenic milk, imitation meat products, lunch meat, noodles
  • Prepared Mixes: cake, pancake, muffin, sausage casings, cooking oils, margarines
  • Non-edible: Adhesives, cleaning materials, cosmetics, crayons, fuel, inks, paints, pesticides, plastics, pet food, livestock feed, soap, shampoo, detergents, wax


Soybean: A widely cultivated plant of the pea family which produces edible seeds.

Nodule: A small lump on the root of a plant.

Soybean Seed Pod: Soybeans grow in pods similar to peas, the plant can produce 60-80 pods.

Soybean Seed: Two or four pea-size beans grow in each soybean pod.