Illinois soybean producers are using fewer inputs to raise more soybeans. Compared to 1980, each metric ton of soybeans produced in 2015 used 40% less land, 33% less irrigation water and 35% less energy. That creates a smaller impact on our environment: A 45% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions per metric ton and a 47% decrease soil loss per hectare. Over that time, soybean yields increased 32%, and every year Illinois producers make continuous improvement.
Third-party sustainability verification documents soy sustainability through the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol, or the SSAP. The SSAP promotes environmental and social responsibility across the soy value chain. It is based on U.S. conservation requirements, laws protecting the rights of workers and more to assure the sustainability of the U.S. soybean production system. Producers sign up annually and are subject to comprehensive audit and data-collection systems, which verify sustainability.
Illinois producers use many practices to improve sustainable production.
- Reduced tillage leaves stalks and plant matter from last year’s harvest on the ground, providing a “blanket” that prevents soil erosion and protects water quality. Conservation tillage is incorporated into 58% of Illinois soybean production.
- Cover crops like rye and oats are planted in the off-season to hold nutrients in the field. In spring, the nutrients are recycled back into the soil, creating rich organic matter for the primary crop, like soybeans, to thrive on, reducing fertilizer needs.
- Buffers use strips of grass or other vegetation to trap valuable nutrients and sediment from being carried off fields by heavy rain. By slowing down water, buffers filter out about 50% of nutrients and crop protectants.
- Natural wetlands. Near waterways and in significant watershed areas, farmers have been slowly releasing acreage from crop production and allowing it to return to its natural wetland state. Illinois producers have converted more than 202,400 hectares, or more than half a million acres, along Illinois streams and rivers from farmland to wetlands in the last 20 years.