Increased usefulness of soy beans has seen their price more than double in recent years, with the commodity having applications in the production of biodiesel, as a cheap animal feed and also in the construction and industrial sectors.
Production of the commodity mainly takes place in the US, with the country generating 39 per cent of the world's supply. However, other producers are now closing the gap - with the US having supplied 60 per cent of global output in 1980.
Classed as an oil seed rather than a pulse by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a host of non-fermented foodstuffs can be made from the crop, including soy milk and tofu, while fermented varieties of the bean include natto, soy sauce, fermented bean paste and tempah.
It is an important global crop and is rich in protein and omega-6 fatty acids, with approximately 85 per cent of world production being used in the delivery of soy meal and soy bean oil and the remainder being consumed by humans.
Soy bean oil is edible and therefore has uses in the processed food industry, with the product present in cooking oils and salad dressings, as well as some margarines.
Demand for biodiesel made from soy bean oil continues to grow across the globe. Despite having a slightly lower energy output than petroleum diesel, it burns cleaner and has much greater lubricating qualities resulting in less frequent maintenance for engines.
As demand increases for biodiesel as a more sustainable fuel source, this too is likely to have an impact on soy bean prices in the future.
One issue that has a particular impact on the production of the commodity is that of soy bean rust, with the wind-borne fungus capable of decimating crops. The disease was reported in 15 states in the US in 2003 and is also prevalent in South America.