By Greg Young
Northwest Asian Weekly
Soybeans could be considered the king of beans.
For over 5000 years soybeans have been cultivated and used as a source of food and drugs. Emperor Shen-nung of China said soybeans are one of five sacred plants, along with rice, corn, and barley.
The 20th century found versatile ways of using soybeans, such as animal feed, oil, and health supplements, and has since become a billion dollar business.
Between 1961 and 2009, soy production increased 10 times, and in just the following year the total value of the soybean industry reached to nearly $27 billion. The United States is the largest producer of soybeans in the world, followed by Brazil, Argentina, and China, respectively. These four countries produce 85 percent of the world’s soybeans. 2012 alone saw a production of 270 million tons of soy, more than double since 1996.
The United States is currently the biggest producer of soybeans. The largest concentration of soybean growers is located in the Midwest and some southern regions, and New England. The USDA divided the major growing region into six smaller regions. One of those regions is the Western Corn Belt, which contains five out of the top 10 soybean-producing states. One of those states is South Dakota, which is home of Tara and Tessa Miller, co-proprietors, and loving sisters, of Signature Soy, a different kind of soybean growing and distribution farm.
A typical soybean farm sells their beans to a grain elevator. The grain elevator then cleans soybeans, makes sure the soybeans are up to industry standards, and then sells them to food processors, or feedlots, or whoever needs large quantities of soybeans. Then they’re processed to become any number of products; animal feed, turned into oil, or added to food. The uses for soybeans are practically endless.
About 95 percent of farms grow soybeans in as large quantities as possible, as quickly as possible, and as efficiently as possible, by any means as possible. For that reason they rely on cheap and easy methods of growing the beans, which includes using chemicals and promoting the use of GMOs.
The team at Signature Soy has developed a more intimate way of growing, processing, and distributing their soybean products.
“All our distribution is online,” Said Tara Miller, one half of the ownership. Signature Soy specializes in soybeans that are free of genetically modified organisms. Signature Soy is a small budding soybean farm and business that creates a more intimate relationship with their customers, and they strive to produce a safer and healthier soybean by being dedicated to non-GMOs.
Her sister Tessa adopted her passion for soybeans from her father, Jon Miller, who’s also the president of Brushvale Seed, Inc, a state of the art soybean grower and distributor in North Dakota, also a strong advocate of non-GMO soybeans. Signature Soy came about when Tessa realized that there are people who want to place small orders and have soybeans sent directly from the farmer to the customer. Signature Soy does just that: Sell directly the customer, a true farm-to-table business.
“We grow soybeans just like any other farm does,” said Tessa. “We typically start in the morning, we dig to prepare the soil, and we use a variety of soybeans that works best with different soils.”
Seeds are planted in the springtime, usually in May. During that time they maintain their crop, protecting their farm from any sort of challenges that may arise, such as weather, or soybean nematodes, which will eat the roots of their crop.
Problems certainly arise on the farm, such as when equipment may break down, or when other animals or organisms sneak into the farm to eat their crop. But sometimes the problems are far out of their control.
“Weather is a big problem,” Tessa said. She recounted the problem with her crops in 2014 when there was so much rain that they couldn’t even plant their seeds until June, or even July, which put them way behind schedule. “Sometimes there will be a frost that will prevent the seeds from fully maturing.” She was happy to say that her crop in 2014 turned out just fine.
Once the beans are grown and harvested, they are sent over to the family cleaners to shake off the dirt and gravel. Once the beans are clean, they’re held in storage until they receive an order.
The harvest comes in September, when the crops mature and the beans have grown. Tessa will head out to the farm with her tractor, or thresher, and gather the soybeans from her crops. She then sends the soybeans to the family cleaners, and then they proceed to make their products; soymilk, tofu, jars of soybeans, which they sell directly to the customer online.
“All of our distribution is online,” said Tara.
The Miller family, from both Signature Soy and Brushvale Seed, Inc are companies dedicated to non-GMO soybeans, of which they are part of five percent of farms in the soybean industry that are dedicated to non-GMO. “Growing non-GMO soybeans is very tough,” said Tara.
“There are very strict regulations, and one hundred percent of every tool and method have to be traced. Everything about growing non-GMOs have to be accounted for. GMO soybeans are so prevalent because they are so easy to produce.”
“People want non-GMO soybeans,” said Tara. “Our dad found that most his customers overseas won’t even take soybeans if they have any traces of GMO. Unless there’s hard research saying GMO’s are safe, they won’t take them.”
Tara and Tessa continue to work on their business, and hearing them talk about it, it’s clear they’re very passionate about their product. “We currently have about a hundred customers,” Tara said, “and our sales have tripled within a year.”
“We spread our name through word of mouth and continue making good products. We have a couple hundred customers right now, but we hope to expand that number very soon!” They recently made a trip to San Francisco for the Northern Californa Soy and Tofu Festival to help spread their name and encourage word of mouth, which is, currently, their main method of promotion. (end)
Greg Young can be reached at email@example.com.