Soybeans: What are they used for?

This year after harvesting my wheat crop in July I planted soybeans behind it.

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One of my soybean fields in late August in North Alabama.

Soybeans are quite common in the United States, especially in the corn belt, but in recent years many farmers in the Southeast have began to put a large percentage of their acreage in soybeans.

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Soybeans are typically harvested October-November

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Soybeans are harvested by a machine called a combine

Soybeans originated in eastern Asia and is still part of the food in many cultures. Have you ever had edamane? You were eating soybeans.

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A record soybean crop was planted this year in the United States totaling 77.728 million acres, keep in mind an acre is about the size of a football field. All these soybeans do not go to Asian restaurants, in fact few do. Soybeans are mainly grown for their oil.

I don’t know if you have every paid much attention at the grocery store, but there are a lot of different kinds of oil you can buy to cook with.

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Some of the most popular are vegetable, canola, and olive. Depending upon the grocery store you visit you may find others like sunflower, safflower, peanut, corn, and even walnut oils. Each type of oil has its on flash point. The “flash point” is the temperature at which the oil ignites. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke. It begins to burn at this point and it can be a fire hazard.

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Vegetable oil is from soybeans. Soybean oil  was re-labeled when “all vegetable” shortenings in the 1960s which replaced lard and beef tallow-based shortenings. This continued when certain oils were perceived as healthy in the 1970s, and were promoted in advertisements and labeling. According to the US Soybean Board soybean oil is by far the most predominant oil of the food industry due to its versatility in foods.  More than 80% of cooking oil in commercial applications is soybean oil.

Other food products soybeans are used in are:

Baked Goods

Baked Goods

Non-dairy creamers

Non-dairy creamers

Salad Dressings

Salad Dressings

Soy Milk

Soy Milk

Whipped Toppings

Whipped Toppings

Margarines

Margarines

BBQ Sauces

BBQ Sauces

Other products that soybeans are used for that do not involve food are:

Cosmetics

Cosmetics

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Diesel Fuel

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Animal Feeds- Especially poultry feed here in Alabama

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Inks- both in ink pens and ink used in magazines and newspapers

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Anti-biotics and other pharmaceuticals

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Paints

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Plywood

These little beans may not seem like much, but they are the second largest crop in the United States behind corn and are found in many products we use everyday.

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Cotton: The Only “Snow” Alabama Gets

Growing up in Alabama, I have not seen a tremendous amount of snow in my lifetime except for the “snow” that blooms each fall in our fields.

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Cotton has also been called “White Gold” because of its value. 100 years ago cotton is what kept the Southern economy thriving. After Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, cotton took its place as the South’s top cash crop. By 1860, the southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, and up to 80% of the fiber that was crucial to the British textile market. American cotton production soared from 156,000 bales in 1800 to more than 4,000,000 bales in 1860 (a bale is a compressed bundle of cotton weighing between 400 and 500 pounds). Today from the years 2010 through 2012, average acres harvested was 9.8 million acres, producing an average 17.0 million bales.

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Cotton is not as popular of a crop as it once was. We now use so many other materials for making clothing, so cotton is not as heavily used as it once was. However that does not mean cotton is still not important.

As of last week 88% of Alabama’s cotton crop had been harvested, but yesterday a local farmer was still picking cotton so I was able to grab some pictures.

These large machines called cotton pickers go through the fields and pull the cotton from the stalk. This particular cotton picker can pick 4 rows at a time.

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The cotton picked is pulled through a vacuum process into the basket on the back of the picker.

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When the basket is full the cotton is dumped into a module builder.

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The module builder packs the cotton into a large rectangular block of cotton.

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Cotton is then taken to the gin and after the seed is removed the fiber can be for a variety of products. One 480 bale of cotton can be used to make:

215 Jeans
249 Bed Sheets
409 Men’s Sport Shirts
690 Terry Bath Towels
765 Men’s Dress Shirts
1,217 Men’s T-Shirts
1,256 Pillowcases
2,104 Boxer Shorts
2,419 Men’s Briefs
3,085 Diapers
4,321 Mid-Calf Socks
6,436 Women’s Knit Briefs
21,960 Women’s Handkerchiefs
313,600 $100 Bills

You may have never realized that bills were made out of cotton, but think about it. If you leave a piece of paper in your pockets and wash it, what happens to it? Its a mess, but a dollar bill is not harmed after a trip through the washing machine.

Cotton is still king in my book. It is beautiful when it is blooming and the bolls are opening up. It is a very finicky crop and somewhat difficult to grow, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you are able to harvest it.

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Mark Phillips: Student and Farmer

Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips is a classmate of mine at Auburn. Currently we have Ag Marketing together. Some days it gets time for class and fellow classmate Garrett Dixon will jokingly ask “Where’s Mark? Did he drop the class?” 

If Mark is late or rarely happens to not make it to class we usually know where he is. In the field. DSC_0834

Mark is a senior at Auburn studying agronomy, but his ambition is to one day be a full-time farmer. He didn’t grow up living on a farm, but his grandparents and uncle farm and he worked on their operation from an early age. When he came to Auburn, Mark knew he wanted to farm, but wanted to go ahead and get a degree.

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During his time at Auburn he has worked for a local farmer. So every afternoon when classes are over for Mark he heads to the farm for an afternoon of work. During planting and harvest seasons this means some long days because after he leaves the field in the evenings he still has homework to do.

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“I love it” says Mark “some days they have to almost drag me off the tractor.”

Most students that major in some form of agriculture do not aspire to be farmers. However I am thankful for those like Mark who want to. I cannot think of a more noble profession than to feed people and care for animals. It is so encouraging to know there are people out there like Mark that are passionate about farming, especially at such a young age.

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Harvest: My Favorite Time of Year

I was an August baby, at home my mom has pictures of me in the cotton field with my dad when I was just a few weeks old. I’ve always been around it been around harvest in the fall . My dad quit farming a few years ago, but because my younger brothers and I have started farming I am still around it. This fall I am looking forward to harvesting my first soybean crop and I am beyond excited.

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My soybeans were looking good when I was home a few weekends ago. They are all but ready to harvest.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to do something I usually do not get to do in Auburn. I left class and went and went to the fields. This time it was not to work. I am writing an article about one of my classmates Mark so I needed some pictures of him working. Although I was along to take pictures it was such a thrill to spend some time in the soybeans.

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Watching soybeans and corn so intently with my internship this summer I am more amazed than ever at the  cycle plants go through. It is absolutely amazing to watch tiny seeds push through hard crusted soil, it is amazing to see them be subjected to harsh environmental conditions and see them bounce back. I have a post in mind to do soon relating seeds/plants to life, but ‘m not going to jump in on that today.

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I’m so thankful that the cycle of life exists for plants, its really remarkable to see how a tiny seed can be planted and cared for and can be turned into a useful product that may be turned into food, fiber, fuel, plastics, medicines, etc. Harvest is when farmers can see all their hard work come to fruition. Some years depending on drought and other factors it may not be a good year, but those are things we do not have control over.

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Another reason I like harvest is just the ability to be outside. Typically the weather has cooled off, blue skies, clear and cool mornings and evenings. I think that is just what I needed yesterday, taking off work and spending some time outside was just the therapy I needed to break up the afternoon work cycle I am in each day. Yesterday was a beautiful afternoon, I wish I could have spent all afternoon there, but alasImage

New School Year, Domain, Look, Series

I have successfully survived my “last first day of school”. I should have got my brother Brady to take my picture this morning before I left with my backpack and lunchbox, however it was 5:45am and I don’t think he would have appreciated it very much if I would have woke him. Needless to say I am very happy to be back in Auburn, I was able to have a turkey sub from BBQ House for lunch so it has been a good day.

Anna Leigh Peek BBQ House

 I started a few days later than the rest of Auburn students because last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the AgChat Foundation’s Agvocacy 2.0 Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

AgChat 2013

Photo Courtesy of Chuck Zimmerman

Since my major is Agriculture Communications I was so excited to be going to a conference that was all about social media and agriculture. I was able to finally meet folks I have followed on Twitter and Blogs for years now. We also had a swap on Thursday night where we swapped items from our state with others. I came home with some pretty awesome swAG.

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At the conference I was able to learn from some of the best Ag-vocates out there. I was able to learn how to use some social media platforms I have not really considered like Pinterest. I even learned a few tips about Facebook (I thought I had mastered the Facebook) I have been motivated to blog more and was even motivated that I now have my own domain (www.ALfromAL.com) and have left blogger to come to Word Press. 

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We had a great panel discussion there with guest panelist which included a mom blogger, nutritionist, blogger and a chef. It was a great reminder of why we were there, even though they are very educated individuals they still lack a great understanding of food and where it comes from and also shows we still have so much work to do. I have came home energized and hoping to do more blogging on food production and just more writing in general. So a few things to look for in the coming weeks:

1. Harvest Posts- harvest is coming up so why not show it? I hope to show how food leaves the field on its way to your plate. 

cotton harvest Alabama

2. Football Posts: Auburn Traditions / Fun Facts on Mondays and Tailgate Recipes on Fridays. There will also be travel stories at least from Texas A&M hopefully some other schools. 

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3.  Summer Internship- a few posts looking back on my experiences with Monsanto this summer in the Dakotas 

South Dakota Sunset Internship Anna Leigh PeekIt should be a fun fall and I am going to try to enjoy it as much as I can seeing that it is my last fall in Auburn as a student. Keep up with my adventures here!

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Why Do We Do What We Do?


About two weeks ago now I spoke at the Auburn Kiwanis Club on current topics in agriculture and at the end of my presentation a gentleman asked “Farming is not an easy job, why do people like you want to do it?” I have always recognized that farming is not the easiest job to have, but I have always thought of it as being a rewarding job. Over the last few weeks and especially after Dodge’s Super Bowl Commercial based on the Paul Harvey Segment “God Made A Farmer” I have thought more about WHY people continue to farm.



Growing up, farming was what my dad did, what my grandfather had done. At the age of only a few weeks old I have pictures where my mom had taken me to the cotton field to visit my dad when he was harvesting. My brothers and I grew up enjoying the farm life, we rode equipment with dad and his workers, traveled all over Limestone County with mom as she would help dad move from one field to the other during planting, harvest and all in between.



At a young age I do not think we understood the importance of what he was doing. I clearly remember my little brother Thomas when he was a few years old asking my dad “Daddy, when are you going to get a REAL job?” of course everyone laughed at that. It wasn’t until we were older that we realized what a REAL job farming is.That is one thing I try to impress upon young kids when I visit schools, I put it to them like this “farmers have jobs just like their parents, but instead of driving to the office, they go out and grow our food.”

Like with any job, some days in farming are better than others. There are the days when tractors won’t start, you lock the keys in the truck, animals die, belts break, employees don’t show up, not enough rain, too much rain, extreme heat, and extreme cold. Whatever the circumstances things still have to be finished. Crops nor animals can wait for better weather, vacations to be over, etc. I often run into people who question farmers and their care of their animals. They often will scoff that “farmers are only doing it for the money.” In a sense that is true, it is a business you have to retain profitability in order to keep going (however every year profitability does not always happen). Farmers show the utmost care and concern for their livestock and their well-being. Right now for example it is winter time in most parts of the country (Alabama’s weather has not yet realized it is winter), but winter time can be tough to function outdoors, must less have to care for livestock like my friend Melissa Keyes and her family does out in Springfield, Nebraska. Currently they have about 150 mama cows that will be having calves within the next two months. No matter the conditions they provide the best care for their Angus cattle.


Right before Christmas she explained some of the challenges snow provides for their farm and even talked about how Christmas morning was like any other morning until the cows were fed and the snow was shoveled out of the bunkers. Other friends have talked about times when they had to postpone vacations, dates, and other events due to sick or pregnant animals. Would you postpone a family vacation because your dog or cat was sick?

When it all comes down to it I think one of the main reasons farmers continue to do what they do amist the challenges they face is pride. Not a bad kind of pride, pride in the product of their toil. I’m starting to see that through my own experiences. As I have mentioned previously I am growing my first crops of my own this year. I am so proud of my wheat! I planted it in November and it is coming along so nicely. I love watching it grow and figuring out the best way to make sure it is harvested successfully.  



My brother went home this weekend and I was not able to, but I was so excited to get to see the pictures of how it has grown since I saw it last. My dad has often talked about cotton. It is a pretty cantankerous crop to grow. It takes a lot of oversight and adjusting throughout its growing span, but when it is opening up and has reached maturity it is something you look at and are proud of. Farmers take pride in what they produce whether it be a cow, cotton, catfish, peanuts, alfalfa, you name it. Also farmers take great pride in what they are doing: feeding their families, country and world. We are adding a million people to the world’s population every five days which is equal to a Chicago every week! Farmers are a necessity to feed all of these new people being added to the world daily. Farmers also take pride in their lifestyle. A lot of my friends in other colleges here at Auburn have the idea that being an “ag major” is just that an ag major. Being an agriculture major is so much more than just a course of study. It is a way of life and extremely important to the continued survival of mankind. Farmers take pride in the life lessons and values learned on the farm.


Farmers love what they do and take pride in it, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. They love the land, their animals, people, the sun, rain, and the challenge. It is a job demanding of their time and physical bodies, but it is a noble profession and wonderful way of life. I know I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I realize it is not for everyone and I’m not saying anyone who doesn’t is inferior. The pride and love of agriculture and its future is what keeps me and two million other farmers in the United States plowing on.