End users will continue to demand an increasingly sustainable product, which gives U.S. soybean farmers an opportunity for continuous improvement. The latest national indicators report by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture provides insight into areas for improvement. The report analyzed sustainability metrics between 1980 and 2015.

  1. Total production and area of planted soybeans increased. Production increased faster than area, illustrating the role of increasing yields.
  2. During the 35-year time period, soil conservation improved 47 percent. However, since a low reached in 2007, soil conservation has held steady or slightly increased. This likely reflects the leveling off of adoption rates for conservation tillage and the reduction of land in CRP, as well as a slight increase in acres where tillage was used as a weed-management practice.
  3. Irrigation water use improved from 1980 to 2015. Yet, over the same time period, the percentage of soybean acreage irrigated increased from 4 percent to 9 percent. In addition, the 2012 Midwest drought caused an increase in irrigation water use. Since 2012, the indicator has declined, but remains higher than the lowest value from 2007.
  4. Energy use decreased 35 percent. Although energy use for producing crop chemicals and irrigation for soybeans increased, more conservation tillage decreased tillage energy, resulting in a flat trend in recent years.
  5. Greenhouse gas emissions also improved over the study period. Like with energy use, emission increases associated with crop chemicals and irrigation has been offset by reduced energy use and associated emissions from fewer tillage operations, resulting in a leveling off of progress.