If you were an avid reader of Soy digest in the middle of the last century, you may have witnessed a quiet invasion of the series of American maps printed in the magazine’s annual review of new soybean cultivars, or “crop varieties.”
Unlike the names of consumer products like apples, the names of soybean cultivars were not intended to attract consumers. Instead, they started out as a pragmatic way to keep genetic lines straight: unique proper names or series of numbers and letters chosen for reasons known only to breeders. In the early 1900s, when the USDA began to become actively involved in importing and sorting Asian seeds into cultivars for American farmers, names indicating geographic origin, such as “Beijing,” were common. . In the late 1940s, breeders were choosing names for the soybean, still widely regarded as a “botanical immigrant,” which rooted it on American soil. Northern ranchers preferred the names of presidents – “Adams”, “Lincoln” – and tribal nations: “Chippewa”, “Blackhawk”. Southern names at the time included “Volstate” (for Tennessee, the State of the Volunteers).