National Geographic : 1987 Jul
finicky both to grow and handle, which means that more of the agricultural labor can be done by machine. At the time-the 1950s and '60s-this was just one more rea son to make the switch, since farm labor was getting scarce anyway. But the Fullens, as do other farmers I spoke to, believe that at some time cause and effect changed places, and that the switch to the bean itself helped depopulate the region. Earlier a farmer named M. C. Bevis had told me flatly: "Soybeans changed the struc ture of the population down here. And the life-style." And now, Jimmy Fullen added, "It's deserted compared to the way it was when cotton was here." The ease with which the soybean grew on marginal ground meant that every acre could be devoted to it. "Every turnrow, ev ery tree, every bush was pushed out," Steve Fullen said. The oak trees went down. "I cleared 10,000 acres myself," Jim Fullen added. "Soybeans made this county, so far as the land goes." Planting ground that used to be covered by trees and bush and pasture was remunerative then, but it carried a hid den cost, in that there were fewer roots to hold down the soil. Farmers were told by soil engineers that 40 tons of topsoil an acre was being washed into the Mississippi every year. "This is the most eroded county in the state right here," Steve said. "But I don't see what can be done about it," his brother add ed. "Farmers don't have the money to put those safeguards back in." In the early 1980s the price of the dollar rose dramatically. Since a foreigner wishing to buy from an American producer has to pay in dollars, this indirectly increased the price of the soybean in foreign markets, which had been buying half the harvest. At the same time, large new competitors, espe cially in South America (Brazil now earns nearly as much from soybeans as from cof fee), started to appear. These developments depressed soybean Hangingup to dry, translucentsheets ofyuba (above) are made by skimming heated soy milk. Tissue thin, the silky Japanesedelicacy is rolled and sliced, then eaten in soup or served as an appetizer. In northernJapan,Ume Murata (right) alternatelyfreezes and thaws tofu to make spongy, dried-frozen squares.