Tempeh is made of soybeans and soybeans have been grown in Canada since 1943. Growing export demand and demand for both animal and human food have made soybeans a Canadian farming staple. Of course, Canada is not the only soybeans producer. In fact, it ranks seventh in CropProphet’s global list of soybean producers, with the United States, Brazil, and Argentina taking the top spots.
But Canada stands apart from the competition in soybean production, particularly the province where most of its soybeans are grown: Ontario. Ontario’s soybean farmers strive to come up with a crop that is sustainably and efficiently grown. Ontario farming, especially of soybeans, is marked with concern for practices that focus on sustainability. After all, many of Ontario’s farmers want to pass their farms and the thriving businesses attached to them onto the next generation. How do they do this?
Well, according to Statistics Canada, one of the ways is through technology. This includes GPS technology to more precisely track where fertilizer is needed. Ontario’s soybean farmers are also leaders in making use of soil testing to best implement the practice of the 4Rs (the right source, at the right rate, at the right time, in the right place). Soil testing lets farmers see how many fertilizers or additives are necessary, and 36.4 % of Ontario’s farmers use the practice (setting them above the national average).
Hand in hand with these innovations is many farmers’ return to conservation or no-till methods of preparing their fields for planting. Conservation methods involve minimizing tilling, which can overturn and loosen the precious top layer of soil. Loss of this soil leads to a weakened soil microbiome and an increase in runoff that can lead to chemicals and less desirable elements like phosphorous leaching into water tables.Conservation tilling techniques like strip tilling and no-tilling involve intentional planting of ground cover so that between the harvest and the next year’s planting, fields are covered with living plants. Depending on the plant, these either die off during the winter and create a kind of plant mulch come spring (radish, clovers, and alfalfa) or grow throughout the winter and can be harvested the following summer (winter wheat and winter rye). For more information on cover crops check out the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ pamphlet.
What about after the soybeans have left the farm? Canada’s soybean transportation infrastructure is among the best in the world. In fact, the cost of shipping soybeans from farm to processors or ports for export is the second lowest in the world (according to Soy Canada), placing it behind only Japan.
As mentioned at the start of this post, Canada, let alone Ontario, is not the largest producer of soybeans. So how do the top three producers compare to Ontario soybeans?
Well, the USA comes the closest. It has decent shipping logistics, and farmers are increasingly using conservation tilling practices. But farmers there have been slow to adopt organic soybean growing practices, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Brazil and Argentina, though they produce plenty of soybeans, are both sorting out their shipping logistics. But even when soybeans can zip around within those countries, they would still need to cross most of a continent to reach Canada. Plus, according to the ProTerra Foundation and Diálogo Chino, both countries seem to be focused on increasing the amount of land soybeans are planted on rather than trying to boost existing fields’ efficiency. This means that some of the current expansion of soybean production in these countries comes at the cost of natural vegetation and rainforest.
So, in the end, Ontario farming has the edge on sustainable and accessible soybean production. Which is why Henry’s Tempeh sources its soybeans from our home province: Ontario.