The history of world soybean production and trade can be divided into six phases:
All production and Trade in East Asia (from ancient times to 1907)
Since ancient times, China has been the world’s foremost soybean producing country. In the earliest period for which we have records (1909-1913), China proper (not including Manchuria) produced an estimated 71.5% of the world’s soybeans, much more than all other countries combined. Other major producers were Manchuria (16.5%), Japan (5.9%), Korea (5.5%), and Indonesia (Dutch East Indies, less than 1%). For centuries, Manchuria and north China had shipped soybeans by boat to southern Chinese ports and by the late 1800s exports from Manchuria to Japan increased rapidly, especially after China made special trade concessions at the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895.
Expansion of Soybean Exports from Manchuria to the West (1908-1930)
In 1908, the first shipment of soybeans to the West was made by Japanese firms from Manchuria to England. During the next two decades, exports of soybeans and soy oil from Manchuria to Europe increased rapidly, stimulating an expansion of soybean production in Manchuria from 1 million tonnes in 1908 to 5.4 million tonnes in 1930, and increasing Manchuria’s share of the world market during this period from 16.5% to 42.5%. Soybean production in China proper during this period stayed about constant at 5.4 million tonnes per year.
Rise of Soybean Production in the United States and Decline of Exports from Manchuria to Europe (1931-1941)
Starting in the early 1930s, America began to emerge as a major soybean producer, passing Japan in 1931, Korea in 1934, and almost overtaking Manchuria in 1941. During this same period, soybean exports from Manchuria to Europe began a steady decline, largely due to dissatisfaction by European soybean processors with the quality of Manchurian soybeans, oil, and presscake. The advent of World War II in 1940 disrupted soybean trade between Manchuria and Europe, reducing it to virtually zero by 1941; it was never resumed after the war. Because of the rise in US production and the fall in trade with Europe, Manchuria’s soybean production by 1940 had fallen to less than 60% of its 1930 peak, and Manchuria’s share of world production had fallen from its peak of 42.5% to 25.5%.
Domination of the US as the World’s Leading Producer (1942-1956)
Spurred since 1940 by a wartime need for domestic sources of fats, oils, and meal, the United States doubled its soybean production between 1941 and 1942, passing both Manchuria and China in one year to become the world’s leading soybean producing country, a lead which has been maintained ever since, except for 1947 when China took it back for one year. In the brief period from 1930-1942, America’s share of world production had skyrocketed from 3% to 46.5%. Manchuria’s and China’s share of world production continued their steady decline since 1930; in 1954 the production statistics of the two countries were merged.
Leadership of the West Over Asia in Production and Rise of the US as a Major Exporter (1957-1970)
Prior to 1956, the majority of the world’s soybeans had been produced in Asia. However, in that year the center of world soybean production shifted to the western hemisphere as the United States passed Asia in total production. At about the same time, the US emerged as the world’s leading exporter of soybeans, soy oil, and soybean meal. Asia’s total production remained at basically the same level from 1922-1979.
The Rise of Latin America (1971 to today)
Starting in the early 1970s, Latin America, led by Brazil, began to emerge as a major soybean producing area. In 1974, Brazil’s production passed that of China and in 1975 Latin America’s total production, the major producers being Brazil and Argentina, passed that of Asia. Latin America also emerged as a major soybean exporter. The rise of production in Latin America caused America’s share of world production to fall from its peak of 76.1% in 1969, to 34% in 2017.
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