—ELIOT COLEMAN

,
from the Foreword
“I believe I can safely say, without losing
any money, that if you know of one fact
truly necessary to growing grains organically in the United States that is not in
this book, I’ll pay you five bucks out of my
own pocket.”
—GENE LOGSDON,
author of Small-Scale Grain Growing
“In this classic book, Jack provides not
only the meaning but also the methods
required to succeed as a small-scale grower
of organic grains.”
—JEFFREY HAMELMAN,
director, King Arthur Flour Bakery,
and author of Bread: A Baker’s Book
of Techniques and Recipes
“Given our industrial agriculture, most of us
assume that grain can be grown only in huge
monocultures devoted to producing as much
as possible, unmindful of the quality. But in
The Organic Grain Grower, Jack Lazor provides
us with a practical and attractive alternative.”
—FREDERICK KIRSCHENMANN,
author of Cultivating an Ecological Conscience

Chelsea Green Publishing
85 North Main Street, Suite 120
White River Junction, VT 05001
802-295-6300
www.chelseagreen.com
Cover design by Melissa Jacobson
Cover photographs by Jack Lazor

OrganicGrainGrower_cover.indd 1

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
TO GROWING ORGANIC
GRAINS ON A SMALL AND
ECOLOGICAL SCALE
The Organic Grain Grower is an invaluable resource for both home-scale
and commercial producers interested in expanding their resiliency
and crop diversity through growing their own grains.
Longtime farmer and organic pioneer Jack Lazor covers how
to grow and store wheat, barley, oats, corn, dry beans, soybeans,
oilseeds, grasses, nutrient-dense forages, and lesser-known cereals.
In addition, Lazor argues the importance of integrating grains on
the organic farm (not to mention within the local food system) for
reasons of biodiversity and whole-farm management.
The Organic Grain Grower provides information on wide-ranging
topics, from nutrient density and building soil fertility to machinery and grinding grains for livestock rations, including:
• The history of grain growing and consumption in parts
of Eastern United States and Canada;
• Present-day grain farming and the birth of the local
food movement;
• Considering your farm’s scale and climate;
• Planting your crop (including spring versus fall cereals
and preparing your soil);
• The growing and ripening process (reproductive, milk,
hard-and-soft dough stages);
• Harvesting grains and preparing them for sale, storage,
or end use;
• Seed breeding and saving;
• Grinding grains for livestock—including how to put
together a ration based on protein content—and sample
rations for dairy cows, pigs, and chickens; and
• Processing grains for human consumption.
In this book beginners will learn how to grow enough wheat for
a year’s supply of bread flour for their homestead, while established
farmers will learn how to become part of a grain co-op, working
alongside artisan bakers and mills. Never before has there been a
guide to growing organic grains that is so applicable for both the
homestead grower and the professional farmer.

ISBN: 9781603583657

$45 USD

Lazor

THE ORGANIC GRAIN GROWER

“Jack Lazor did not wait for a new movement to inspire him. Jack inspired the
movement. Jack began reclaiming the small
farm’s grain heritage right from the start
of his farm many years ago. That is why
this book is such a delight. These are the
words of someone who has talked to all the
old-timers and done it all himself. It is like
acquiring hundreds of years of knowledge
in one book.”

THE

ORGANIC
GRAIN
GROWER
Small-Scale, Holistic
Grain Production
for the Home and
Market Producer

JACK LAZOR
Foreword by Eliot Coleman

Chelsea
Green

7/1/13 2:22 PM

Chapter Fourteen

Soybeans

The soybean (Glycine max) stands alone in its importance as a food crop for humans and livestock.
No other grain plant produces as much protein per
acre. Soybeans average close to 40 percent in protein and 20 percent in oil content. Protein quality
is exceptional as well, and soybeans contain a fairly
balanced profile of all the necessary amino acids
that are required to support life. To supply compete
protein, however, they must be cooked or heated to
destroy a trypsin inhibitor contained in the plant’s
chemical composition. This is why soybeans are
roasted for livestock rations and boiled before we
can eat them. One of the reasons why soybeans produce flatulence and are so difficult for us to digest is
because their carbohydrate portion is composed of
nondigestible sugars called oligosaccharides, which
can cause abdominal discomfort in monogastric
animals. If soybeans are fermented into products
like tempeh and miso, these soluble carbohydrates
are broken down and rendered more digestible. The
supreme advantage of this wonder crop is that it is
a legume; it can extract its own nitrogen from the
atmosphere just like alfalfa and clover. Soybean roots
produce little round nodules with the help of the
bacteria Rhizobium japonicum, a biological mechanism
that allows the plant to “fix” its own nitrogen from
the air. Soybeans are in a totally different class than
the cereals in the grass (Gramineae) family. Broadleafed flowering plants known as angiosperms, they
grow more like little trees or stalks of green. The
good news about the soybean is that it will grow

and produce large amounts of edible protein in
all parts of our region. Soybeans have always been
acclimated to the warmer southern locations, but
now thanks to modern breeding and selection, there
are numerous soybean varieties that will perform
well in the colder areas of northern New England
and New York.

Soybean Origins
The soybean was first domesticated in northeastern
China around 1100 bc. Its ancestor was a wild vine
(Glycine soja) that produced tiny hard seeds, which
required lots of preparation to be used as human
food. In fact, this plant stills grows wild throughout Korea, China, and other parts of Eastern Asia.
Once this wild vine had been transformed into an
upright annual leguminous plant whose fruits were
larger and easier to harvest, the soybean spread
like wildfire through all of Asia and eventually to
Japan and other islands in the Pacific Ocean. A
whole variety of high-protein foods from basic bean
sprouts to tofu and tempeh were developed from
the soybean as its culture spread throughout the Far
East. By the early eighteenth century, soybeans had
made their way to Europe on sailing ships returning
from the Orient, and French scientists took a fancy
to the little bean when they discovered that it contained very little, if any, starch. Suddenly there was
a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food that could
be consumed by individuals with diabetes. The very
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Soybean nodule cut in half to illustrate a healthy pink interior. Photo courtesy of Sid Bosworth

Nitrogen-fixing nodules affixed to the root system of a soybean plant. Photo courtesy of Sid Bosworth

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Soybeans
first record of the crop in North America comes
from a sailor named Samuel Bowen who returned to
Savannah, Georgia, with soybeans he had procured
in China. Around 1765, Bowen began cultivating
small amounts of soybeans and exporting soy sauce
to Europe. Benjamin Franklin also took a fancy to
soybeans and was instrumental in introducing them
from France to Philadelphia in 1804. Soybeans
remained a curiosity through the remainder of the
nineteenth century and into the first few decades of
the twentieth; the land grant colleges and agricultural experts of the time promoted them as a forage
crop to be mowed for hay or plowed down for green
manure. The experts knew that this crop was full
of nitrogen, but few, if any, efforts were made to
harvest its fruit. Henry Ford was a staunch vegetarian and America’s first champion for the widespread
industrial usage of soybeans. Between 1932 and
1933, he spent over a million dollars on soybean
research. His efforts were mostly concentrated on
finding uses for soybean oil in the manufacture of
automobiles. By 1935, the Ford Motor Company
was using soybean oil in paints and for fluid in its
shock absorbers. Ford was also a pioneer in developing the first soy-based plastics.

tein requirements of the burgeoning beef, poultry,
and pork farming sectors. The true potential of this
mysterious bean plant from Asia was finally realized.
A sixty-pound bushel of soybeans yielded eleven
pounds of high-quality oil and forty-eight pounds
of 42 percent protein meal. No further processing
was required to improve the digestibility of the soybean oil meal because the heat generated during oil
extraction was sufficient to transform it into a complete protein source. This parallel development of a
vegetable oil industry coupled with increased meat
production was a match made in heaven. Soybeans
really began to come into their own as an important
crop in the 1950s. Up until this time, most of the
soybeans grown in the country were concentrated
in the southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama,
Mississippi, North Carolina, and Kentucky. As the
demand for oil and meat increased after the war,
production began to move into the Corn Belt of
the Midwest—soybeans just happened to be an
ideal crop rotation mate to corn. The archetypal
corn–soybean rotation that dominates American
agriculture today was born during the 1950s.
Soybeans have come a long way since the early
days of commercial production. Once output began to climb, the genius of American agricultural
ingenuity went to work on the crop during the late
1950s and early ’60s. Row spacing got narrower
and yields increased with the introduction of new
varieties. Combine grain platforms, which up until
this time were used exclusively on cereals like wheat
and barley, were modified to work down closer to
the ground to “shave” the low-hanging pods of
soybeans. By 1965, soybeans had become America’s
number three crop, after corn and wheat. At first
soybeans were used exclusively in the manufacture
of cooking oils, margarine, shortening, and salad
dressings, but as the crop increased in economic
importance, university researchers found that
soybeans also worked well for industrial applications. Soybean oil eventually found its way into
paint, inks, varnishes, caulking compounds, and

The Rise of Soybean Production
Post–World War II

Soybeans were definitely a neglected crop until
World War II. Up until the early 1940s, the United
States imported 40 percent of its cooking oil
from abroad, but the disruption of trade routes
that resulted because of the war encouraged the
widespread adoption of soybean culture for the
domestic production of vegetable oil. Henry Ford’s
research from ten years earlier paid great dividends,
and a domestic soybean oil industry was born.
American agriculture in general changed drastically after World War II. As the standard of living
increased, people began eating more meat, and the
soybean oil meal by-product from the oil extraction
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The Organic Grain Grower
numerous other products. Henry Ford would be
proud, as the United States was the world leader in
soybean production through the 1970s, dominating the market with a 75 percent share until the
latter part of the decade, when worldwide shortages
of protein encouraged new production in Argentina
and Brazil. South America is now a major player
in the international soybean commodity business;
sadly, thousands of square miles of the Amazon
rain forest have been cleared for soybean farming.
No other agricultural commodity has undergone
as much change in as short a time as the soybean.
In just sixty years, this little bean plant from Asia
has transformed from total obscurity to major
international importance. However, over 90 percent
of the soybeans grown in North America are now
genetically engineered to withstand the killing
effect of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and increased organic and non-GMO soybean production
is needed now more than ever as we find ourselves in
an environment that has become totally dominated
by multinational chemical and seed corporations.

of high-protein chicken and hog concentrate. We
could only guess what these supplements contained
for ingredients. There was certainly a variety of
breed-specific minerals and vitamins in each bag.
The extra protein came from sources like fish meal
and tankage—which is a nice word for dried slaughterhouse waste. We really weren’t worried about
what was in stuff because these “Shurgain” feeds
allowed our animals to produce more meat and eggs
than ever before. We supplemented our dairy cow
rations with corn gluten and linseed meal. (Corn
gluten was a by-product of the corn starch industry;
linseed meal was what was left over after flaxseeds
were pressed into oil.) None of these commercial
products was very organic, but there really wasn’t
anything else available at the time. Organic certification was still five or six years away, and we were
very happy that we had found a way to enhance the
value of our farm-produced cereals. We considered
growing other high-protein crops like field peas,
lupines, and flax, but didn’t have the machinery
or know-how to make it happen. Throughout this
whole early era of my farming and homesteading career, I had the desire and dream to produce my own
protein. If there were only an ultra-short-season
soybean available, I wouldn’t have to buy all these
extra products from the commercial marketplace.
It was right about this time that Johnny’s Selected Seeds from Albion, Maine, began offering
Fiskeby V soybeans in their catalog. This was the
latest and most modern of a series of ultra-shortseason Fiskeby cultivars that had been bred and
developed by Swedish plant breeder Dr. Sven A.
Holmberg. Beginning in the 1930s, Dr. Holmberg
made it his life’s work to bring the soybean to
Sweden, and between 1939 and 1940 he went on
an expedition to Japan’s northernmost island of
Hokkaido in search of soybean germplasm that
might be adapted to southern Sweden. He returned
to the village of Fiskeby in his native Sweden and
began the process of trialing and hybridizing the
hundreds of northern Japanese soybean varieties

My Search for
a Short-Season Variety
My own experience as a grower of soybeans was
late blooming. When I first began growing wheat
and barley in 1977, soybeans weren’t on my radar
screen. My impression was that this was a Corn Belt
crop that thrived from Ohio westward to Illinois
and Iowa. A totally homegrown livestock ration was
out of the question at that time, because we had
to purchase additional concentrates to increase the
protein level of our ground animal feeds. At first
we bought bags of soybean oil meal from our local
grain dealer to mix with our farm-produced barley
and oats, but by the early 1980s we found that we
could buy individual bags of specific protein premixes at the Viens et Frères feed mill in Ayers Cliff,
Québec. Once a week we would journey northward
to buy forty-kilogram (eighty-eight pounds) bags
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Soybeans
for which he had obtained seed. In 1949, Holmberg released his first commercially viable soybean
variety named Fiskeby III, which yielded between
twenty-three and thirty-five bushels to the acre. He
remained dedicated to northern soybean production for the rest of his life, working in Northern
Europe, the United States, and Canada. In 1954,
he made a second visit to East Asia to collect more
breeding material; his final trip to Japan and Siberia
followed in 1970. It was right about this time that
he released the crowning achievement of his life’s
work in breeding—the Fiskeby V soybean. Sven
Holmberg deserves much of the credit for bringing
soybean culture to southern Canada and the northern latitudes of the United States. He passed away
in 1981 at the ripe old age of eighty-seven.
I began to notice more and more evidence of
northern soybean production during the mid1980s. In 1983, we took a trip to Ottawa in eastern
Ontario to visit friends, and on the return trip, we
stopped at a farm near Cornwall and purchased a
thousand pounds of raw unprocessed soybeans
from a farmer. The variety, called Maple Glen, had
been bred and developed at the Agriculture Canada
Research Station near Ottawa. The beans were big,
plump, and beautiful. We had to bring them to a
local bakery and roast them in a large convection
oven in order to make them palatable for our cows.
It was right about this time that I fell in love with
the idea of growing soybeans for myself. If it could
be done in Canada to our north, we should be able
to do it here on our side of the border. I began to do
some research into the subject and found that the
Maple series of soybeans had many varieties that
differed in days to maturity. Maple Arrow took 132
days; Maple Glen, 130 days; Maple Isle, 121 days;
and Maple Presto, 107 days. The provinces of both
Québec and Ontario published variety and maturity
guides that indicated how these various cultivars
performed in their particular climatic subregions.
It took me a few more years before I mustered up
the courage to actually try growing soybeans on my

farm. In 1989, I planted half an acre of KG 20 to
see if they would actually mature on my hilltop.
Interestingly enough, KG 20 was descended from a
cross between McCall from the University of Minnesota, Hardone and our old friend, Fiskeby III.
Much to my delight, the experiment was successful.
The soybeans ripened nicely, and I made plans for a
larger acreage the following year.

Soybean Maturity Zones
Soybeans differ from most of the other common
grains in that they are a photoperiod-sensitive
plant. Cereals like wheat, barley, and oats have an
internal clock that tells them to flower when a certain number of days have passed since germination.
Corn goes from vegetative to reproductive when
a set number of heat units have accumulated, but
soybeans are totally different. They are daylightand photoperiod-sensitive. Plants begin to produce
flowers when the hours of daylight start to wane
after the summer solstice on the twenty-first of
June. Each soybean variety is adapted to transition
from vegetative to reproductive at a predetermined
number of hours of sunlight. Since the hours of
daylight increase as you move northward, northern varieties will usually flower earlier at greater
day lengths than soybeans that are acclimated to
shorter days farther south. Soybean maturity is
more a matter of latitude than any other factor. If
a northern variety is moved south, it will get the
photoperiod message to flower much earlier than
it would in its normal environment because the
days are shorter. Contrarily, if a southern variety is
moved northward, flowering will be delayed because
of the longer days. If flowering is held back too
long, the soybean plant won’t have enough growing
season to finish ripening before killing frost finishes the process. With this phenomenon in mind,
agronomists have developed a North American
soybean maturity zone map and a variety classification system based on latitude.
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OO
O
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
VIII

North American soybean maturity zones. Photo courtesy of How to Grow Great Soybeans, Acres USA

There are eleven maturity ranges that stretch
from Group 000 in the far north to Group 8 in the
southernmost part of the United States. There are
actually two more soybean maturity groups that
stretch across Mexico and the Caribbean. Group 10
grows in the tropics. The lines on this map are arbitrary and not exact; variations do exist because of
cooler and warmer local microclimates, which might
result from a mountain range or proximity to a large

body of water. Nevertheless, each soybean maturity
zone is approximately 150 miles from north to
south. This is about how many miles it would take
to notice a slight difference in day length from one
location to the next. A quick glance at the map puts
the northeastern United States in groups 0, 1, and
2. My experience tells me that these determinations
are a bit too generous. In far northern New England,
we tend to have better luck with Group 00 varieties,
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Soybeans
but if you are nervous about a short growing season
and an early frost, plant Group 000 soybeans for
peace of mind. The good news these days is that
there are hundreds of varieties to choose from in
these maturity ranges. It was a different story back
in the 1980s when there were only a few ultrashort-season Canadian options available.

Choosing the Right Variety
Soybeans exhibit all sorts of characteristics, which
make them one of the most diverse agricultural
crops we can grow. There are short varieties and tall
varieties. Some plants are quite bushy while others
are more erect with fewer branches. Seed size and
color can vary greatly as well. All of this diversity
is to your advantage because it gives you lots of
choices. The first order of business is finding a
variety that will flower early enough to ripen in
your location. Consider your circumstances and
microclimate. Do you have a long growing season or
do you live in a frost pocket? Will you be planting
your soybeans on a cool high-elevation hilltop or
on a warmer river bottom flood-plain? Once you
have determined your soybean maturity zone, you
can refine your variety selection by planting an
early or later cultivar from within that group. For
instance, if you are planting a Group 0 variety, you
have the choice of an 0–1 soybean—which flowers and matures earlier—all the way up to an 0–9
variety, which could flower a week to ten days later.
If you have any doubts about getting your crop to
fully ripen, it’s best to err on the side of caution
and choose a soybean with a lower maturity group
rating. If you’re farming up on the windy hilltop,
you might choose a Group 00–1 soybean. If your
field is located down in the valley and protected
from autumn frost by river fog, you might choose
a Group 00–9 or even a Group 0–1 variety. I have
very successfully grown some Group 000 varieties
in my very cool northern Vermont location. These
plants are short in stature and produce ripe beans
by the third week of September. Although yields are
higher in the later-flowering varieties, respectable
harvests are possible from the Group 00 and Group
000 varieties. To achieve a good yield, plant these
cultivars at high populations in narrow rows with a
grain drill. If you are planting Canadian seed, you
will want to familiarize yourself with their system
of measuring corn heat units. The very shortest

Things to Consider
Before Getting Started
Soybeans are probably the one grain crop that will
tolerate late planting without severe yield loss.
Because flowering is triggered by photoperiod
instead of the number of days since germination, a
mid-June-planted soybean will still flower and make
fruit despite its late start. Yields will be a bit lower
because the vegetative period will be shorter and the
resulting plant smaller. A mid- to late-May-planted
soybean has the potential to produce more pods
because the plant will have had two to four more
weeks to gain in size and stature before flowering is
triggered by day length. For every three days of delayed planting, flowering will be pushed back by one
day. Canadian agronomists don’t use maturity zone
designations to measure soybean maturity. Since
most of the soybeans grown in Canada are Group
0 and lower, corn heat units are used to determine
the suitability of a cultivar to a specific region. So
if you are trying to grow soybeans in the northern
United States, you will have to consider your latitude as well as the number of growing-degree units
in your area. The best news of all is that soybeans
are flexible and forgiving. Late planting will still
produce a crop, and while it might not be bin busting, at least your field will produce something. Heat
and sufficient moisture are also essential for a good
harvest. If you are brand new to growing soybeans,
it will be best to err on the conservative side when
choosing a variety. Plant something with a little
shorter season to ensure there will be ripe beans to
harvest in early October.
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season Canadian soybeans require 2,250 to 2,300
CHUs (Canadian Heat Units). This is about
what would be required to ripen a seventy-five- to
seventy-seven-day corn. A midseason Group 0–9
soybean might be designated a twenty-six-hundredCHU bean, which is the same as an eighty-five-day
corn. Once we get up above three thousand CHUs,
we are working with ninety-day-plus corn and
Group 1 and 2 soybeans. Be conservative. It’s better
to harvest a few less beans from a shorter-season
variety than to have no beans at all because the frost
came earlier than you had planned.

with a bit of a dilemma. For us, thirty-inch rows generally work best because they can be cultivated two
or three times until the plant leaves reach all the way
across the rows. Unfortunately, there are fewer and
fewer wide-canopy varieties being bred and released
into today’s marketplace. It is especially difficult to
find bushy Group 00 and Group 0 soybeans; the
best you might find is a semi-bushy variety that
might grow partway out across the row. Group 1 and
2 varieties are much more likely to fit the bill, but
are much too late maturing for many of us to grow.
I have tried growing soybeans in both seven- and
fifteen-inch rows with only limited success. Weed
control is difficult. I finally solved this problem by
switching to thirty-inch rows and a late Group 0
variety that forms a reasonably good canopy. It is
possible to grow narrow-row soybeans organically.
If you can keep the weeds at bay for the first two
to three weeks, these types of soybeans will form
a canopy much earlier in the growing season, and
less mechanical cultivation will be required—saving
time and energy. (Weed control and cultivation will
be discussed at length later in this chapter.)

Choosing for Foliage and Plant Structure

Once you’ve determined what maturity soybean to
plant, it’s time to choose what sort of foliage and
plant structure you’d like to see in your field. When
you peruse the variety description tables in most
farm seed catalogs, you will notice that soybean
varieties are described as either narrow-leafed or
bushy. Traditionally, soybeans have always been
quite broad-leafed. This type of stature has worked
quite well for those of us who plant our beans in
rows that are thirty inches or wider. These types of
soybeans grow outward as they grow upward, and
by the time a true bush-style soybean plant reaches
two feet in height, its leaves are usually stretching
halfway across a thirty-inch row and nestling against
those of the next row over. Once the leaves close in
the row, an impenetrable canopy is formed that won’t
allow sunlight to reach weeds growing below. There
is no better strategy for weed control in soybeans
than a completely closed-in row. Since the advent of
herbicides, soybean breeders have been developing
plants with narrower leaf expression. These plants
are tall and skinny and do quite well when planted
in narrower seven- and fifteen-inch rows. The logic
behind planting soybeans in these narrower rows is
to cram more plants into an acre and increase yield.
Narrow-row soybeans are generally seeded with a
special grain drill or “fold down” corn planter, but
this situation presents the organic soybean grower

Considering Fruit Characteristics

The actual bean or fruit of the soybean is as variable
in size and appearance as the plant is in its growth
habit. As a grower of soybeans, you have many
choices when considering what you would like the
fruit to look like. Before you select a specific variety,
determine the end use of your potential harvested
crop. If you are growing soybeans for livestock
feed, the decision-making process will be relatively
easy, as just about any soybean variety will work.
If you can find an extra-high-protein variety, that
will be even better. Soybean protein levels usually
run in the 42 percent range. Some seed companies
like Prograin in St. Cesaire, Québec, offer specially
bred feed varieties with protein levels of 48 percent.
These cultivars are a little lower yielding, but will
actually produce more pounds of protein per acre.
If you’re feeding these beans to your own livestock,
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