Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Gretchen Sassenrath

Gretchen F. Sassenrath, Professor, Kansas State University

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
I am a cropping systems agronomist; I look at the whole cropping system and how to improve it. Since soybeans are a critical component of the U.S. cropping system, my research needs to include this major U.S. crop.

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
We are currently working on research to examine the role of the soil microbial community composition on soil-borne diseases. We are examining what factors impact soil microbial community structure and disease prevalence. Key factors include the micro-environment within the soil (temperature and moisture), soil nutrient balance (N, P, K as well as micronutrients), soil physical composition (clay content primarily in our area, but also sand and silt), tillage management, cover crops, and crop rotations. 

Our previous research has demonstrated that use of brassicas (high glucosinolate mustard seed) can reduce disease organisms in the soil, specifically Macrophomina phaseolina that causes charcoal rot. We have expanded that research to explore the fundamental changes in the soil that support beneficial microorganisms and potentially reduce disease-causing organisms. This research will have long-reaching impacts for crop production, and soybean production in particular, by identifying production management choices that improve soybean production and reduce disease. 

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
The soybean checkoff does two things well: supports research on soybeans and supports extension programs to transfer research results to farmers. I could not have completed my research without their support. We have regular extension programs thanks to their support. 

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?
Question everything – if you see a potential problem in a field, find out what’s causing it. Extension folks enjoy visiting with farmers and tracking down problems – just ask us! It might take a while for test results to come back, but we’ll help you track down a problem and develop potential solutions.

I think farmers already know this, but it’s a good reminder to stay focused on your return on investment and not just yield. There are two ways to make more money: earn more (usually by increasing yields) and spend less. It is often a more reliable way to make more money by focusing on your return on investment of the entire production system, which usually means spending less.

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of famers in the future?
Focus on cropping systems, especially the economics of integrated cropping systems. Most farmers have multiple enterprises, and examining soybean production within those integrated systems would benefit farmers by delineating the role of soybean production in their entire system and the fiscal benefits of integrated/diversified agronomic systems, including other crops and crop/livestock systems. 

Examine the impacts of conservation management on soybean production, including opportunities to leverage conservation dollars to improve return on investment. 

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Febina Mathew

Febina Mathew, associate professor and broadleaf/oilseeds crop pathologist, North Dakota State University

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
Soybeans are an important crop worldwide, providing oil, meal and food. Like in any other crop, one of the key constraints to soybean productivity is disease, and farmers need help with disease management. Soybean disease management can be a challenge, and I enjoy taking up the challenge by identifying the right tools to help farmers solve problems. 

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
My program has worked on Diaporthe diseases of soybeans for the last eight years. We developed diagnostic methods to identify the causal organisms as well as greenhouse inoculation methods to study pathogenicity of these organisms and to screen the soybean germplasm for resistance. To date, we have identified 12 species of Diaporthe that are associated with seed decay, several of which had not been previously reported on soybean in the United States. Also, we identified soybean varieties that have potential resistance to Diaporthe caulivora and D. longicolla that can be used by breeding programs to develop disease-resistant varieties for farmers. 

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
Without the farmer support and funding from the checkoff programs, I would not be here as a plant pathologist. My graduate school education and training in the U.S. were supported through these checkoff programs, and I appreciate that they continue to support my research program and team. I am grateful to the farmers for their faith in me and my abilities to serve them, and also for their time and knowledge to teach me about soybean. 

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices? 
Adopt IPM (a combination of genetic resistance, crop rotation, chemicals, etc.) for soybean disease management and greater return on investment. It is important to check with your state specialist on the latest recommendations for disease management as we are developing new tools and information.  

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of famers in the future?
There are several. Fungicide resistance is becoming an issue, and new chemicals/products possibly need to be labelled for soybean for pest management. Additionally, soybeans need improved genetics associated with disease or pest resistance. 

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Kelley Tilmon

Kelley Tilmon, Professor, Department of Entomology, Ohio State University

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
My graduate training in agricultural entomology prepared me to work in any number of different crops. In 2005, I was fortunate to be offered a faculty position at South Dakota State University to work on soybean entomology. I held that position for 10 years before coming to Ohio State, where I continue to work in soybeans. I also work in corn, and a little bit in forages and wheat.

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
I was involved in a project that demonstrated that, in most instances in the Midwest, insecticidal seed treatments do not provide an economic return in soybeans. Most of our acreage gets this treatment by default, but farmers are paying for it and the cost really adds up. Millions of dollars could be saved each year by using these insecticidal seed treatments more judiciously, in the few situations where they are most likely to pay off.

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
I’ve worked on problems like management of aphids, caterpillars, stink bugs, Japanese beetles and many other insects that can either reduce soybean yield, which means farmers lose money, or that are being treated without need, which also causes farmers to lose money. All this work has been funded by the soybean checkoff. The soybean checkoff has also been very wise about funding multi-state, cooperative research. I’ve been involved in a lot of research across state lines. This cooperation is a very effective and efficient way to find answers that help farmers.

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?

  • Be aware of what’s in fields and follow research-based management advice from land-grant universities about when to treat and not treat.
  • This type of scouting can take time, which most of us don’t have. A certified crop consultant who can scout for you is an excellent investment.
  • Take some time to learn a little bit about the biology of the pests you routinely encounter. This provides so much context for how to deal with them! The extension service and the soybean checkoff education sources are always there to help with this information — use them.

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of famers in the future?
New invasive pests will always be coming down the pike. We need to invest in awareness and learning about them before they become a big problem in any given area. One example is soybean gall midge, which is becoming a big problem further west but is also spreading eastward. The checkoff-funded research being done in places like Nebraska will eventually benefit us all.

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Larry Purcell

Larry Purcell, Distinguished Professor and Altheimer Chair for Soybean Research, University of Arkansas System – Division of Agriculture

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
As an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, I had a wonderful advisor, Dr. Doyle Ashley. I got interested in the research that he and Dr. Roger Boerma were doing on canopy-apparent photosynthesis in soybean, and I was fortunate to work on my master’s degree with them. 

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
For the past several years, I have worked on a large collaborative project to develop drought-tolerant soybean varieties. This project, funded by the United Soybean Board, is critically important to ensure economic and environmental sustainability of soybean, especially with challenges of climate change impacting our production practices.

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
Research is incremental, but most agencies have at most funding cycles of two to three years. The soybean checkoff program has provided continuity to programs extending beyond this time frame. The farmers on the United Soybean Board and support staff require accountability from the projects they sponsor, but they recognize that our most pressing problems in crop production require a horizon that often extends beyond two or three years.

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?
For soybean production in the Midsouth, when it is time to plant corn, it is also time to plant soybean. It is also clear that our most productive varieties have indeterminate growth habits and are 1 to 1.5 maturity groups earlier than those typically grown 20 years ago. Associated with early planting and slow seedling emergence is a need for fungicide/insecticide seed treatment. 

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of famers in the future?
Like many other areas in our society today, managing soybean production in the face of climate change poses challenges. More intense rainfall events, drought and extreme heat periods will take their toll on all crops. There will also likely be greater demands for both groundwater and surface water for irrigation purposes. It is critically important to develop varieties that can withstand these weather-related challenges and to develop cropping systems that lessen their impact.

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Carrie Miranda

Carrie Miranda, Assistant Professor, North Dakota State University

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
It was a winding career road before I ended up in agriculture. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and hadn’t been exposed to agriculture. However, I was always interested in plant science and pursued that through my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Also, I traveled and lived internationally during my 20s, which is where I was exposed to agriculture and saw first-hand the importance of food availability. When I returned to the U.S., I had a newfound appreciation for the American agriculture industry and its success, and knew I had something to offer. I chose plant breeding for my Ph.D. focus and found an amazing mentor who worked with soybeans. I saw how impactful soybeans are economically and as a nutritious food source to combat hunger.

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
I am a young researcher, and my work is in the beginning stages. However, I am really excited about the direction of my work. My group is focusing on understanding the genetics behind yield in North Dakota, in addition to creating new, superior varieties. I believe there is a lot of potential to increase our yields similar to other Midwest states, and I plan to prove this over the course of my career.

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
First, I want to say thank you to North Dakota farmers and all the soybean groups including North Dakota Soybean Council, North Central Soybean Research Program, and United Soybean Board for their support of the NDSU soybean breeding program. Without them, this work would be impossible. I know growers utilize the results of the iron deficiency chlorosis, soybean cyst nematode and yield testing trials that we conduct, which are possible through NDSC funding. The council also supports the breeding program operations, which allows us to focus on creating new NDSU soybean varieties. NCSRP and USB fund the research necessary to create higher yielding, disease-resistant lines.

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?
I don’t consider myself as knowledgeable as a farmer when it comes to management, but I can offer some specifics. Soybean cyst nematode is starting to spread throughout the state and there are ways to prevent yield loss. First, test your field for the presence of the nematode. If it is present, buy a soybean variety with SCN resistance and incorporate it into your crop rotation. Also, everyone should be diligent about washing equipment when moving between fields to reduce the likelihood of spreading the nematodes to different locations. 

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of famers in the future?
Most certainly to create and release high yielding cultivars with SCN and IDC tolerance.  

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Chris Little

Chris Little, professor of plant pathology, Kansas State University

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
I have been investigating diseases in row crops for more than 25 years. When I came to K-State in 2007, soybean was one of the commodities for which I had research responsibilities. Since then, I’ve taken a great interest in soybean charcoal rot, seedling diseases, seed diseases, and SDS.

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
Our lab focuses on soybean root diseases and management of such diseases remains very difficult. For us, discovery of resistance sources to root diseases — including charcoal rot, SDS, and seedling diseases — and various screening methods to find that resistance, is probably one of the most important contributions that we can make.

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
Checkoff dollars are essential to running commodity-driven programs at our land grant institutions. With that said, soybean support has been very solid, reliable, and forward-thinking. This gives us some year-to-year reliability for the research program and allows us to address research projects that have both short-term and long-term targets.

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?
Many of the problematic root and seedling diseases that we work on don’t have good sources of resistance, even in the commercial varieties that are available. So, cultural management is an important approach when growers have problematic fields. 

Three recommendations I would make:

  • maintain an economically viable crop rotation strategy to keep soilborne pathogen levels under control
  • keep fields clean and weed-free to reduce potential reservoirs and overwintering materials for pathogens
  • test your field for SCN to know your race and population levels so that effective resistance can be deployed. If nematode pressure is reduced, then overall plant health and plant productivity will improve as a lot of soilborne pathogens can take advantage of parasitized roots.

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of famers in the future?
Cover crops, disease suppressive soils, bio-controls, soil microbiomes, and soil health are the future of long-term sustainability and profitability in our agroecosystems. As we move into the future, these long-term project areas will be of great benefit and reward but will take a lot of effort to understand.

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Ken Hellevang

Ken Hellevang is a Professor and Extension Engineer of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering at North Dakota State University. He has provided education and technical assistance in grain drying and storage; structures with a focus on energy efficiency; indoor environmental engineering primarily related to moisture and mold; and flood preparation and recovery to farmers, citizens, agribusiness, and professionals across the United States and internationally since 1980. 

He is active in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) having served in numerous leadership roles. He has been recognized with the grade of Fellow by ASABE, and in 2018, as Professional Engineer of the Year, the highest award given to a licensed professional engineer by the Society. In 2019, he was the recipient of the ASABE Sukup Global Food Security Award in recognition of his outstanding application of engineering in the storage and handling of grains, oilseeds, and other food products. 

He has authored or co-authored more than 220 publications, in addition to numerous resources on the internet and distributed by private businesses, professional societies, and universities internationally. Hellevang has presented hundreds of seminars and has provided engineering assistance to thousands of people across the United States and internationally. 

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Sam Markell

Sam Markell is a professor and Extension plant pathologist at North Dakota State University. The focus of his Extension and research program is to develop and deliver management recommendations to growers to help them manage important diseases of soybean and other broadleaf crops in North Dakota.

Together with his crew and students, Markell conducts a large, applied field research program with high quality foliar and soil-borne trials that support the crop protection industry in North Dakota. He is known as a highly regarded authority on plant disease management.

Markell has been an excellent advisor and mentor to a number of high-quality graduate students who have subsequently become effective extension educators and crop protection industry scientists.

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – David Holshouser

David Holshouser, professor and Extension soybean agronomist, Virginia Tech

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
Nearly all cropping systems in Virginia include soybeans, largely due to the crop’s flexibility with planting date and ability to yield well under all environments. The future looked very promising for soybeans and turned out to be more promising than I ever expected.

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
Early wheat harvest improves yield and profitability of the wheat–soybean double-crop system. In addition, we have learned that deeper soil samples (12 inches) reveal potassium is more available to the soybean crop (due to leaching in low cation exchange capacity, or CEC, soils). This means potassium application rates may be reduced without soybean yield loss.

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
Most of my applied research is supported by checkoff dollars.

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?

  • Build your soil resiliency.
  • Be timely with everything.
  • Learn from others.

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of farmers in the future?

  • Marketing in a volatile world
  • Increasing productivity

Soybean Research Principal Investigator Profile – Chad Lee

Chad Lee, Extension professor of grains agronomy and director of the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence, University of Kentucky, focused on corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and rye

Why did you decide to pursue a career that includes soybean research?
I did two internships in ag research as an undergraduate student. My boss had a Ph.D. and she said I needed one to have a career like hers. In graduate school, I was involved in several Extension workshops and meetings. I really liked doing research and trying to find unbiased answers to farmers’ questions. Soybeans are an important crop to many farmers across America, but also a very important crop in our global food supply. I like working with a crop that has so much impact locally and potential impact beyond.

What research topic have you completed in the past or are working on now that could have or has had the most significant impact on soybean production?
We have conducted research trials on high yields in soybeans. The United Soybean Board funded that research across several states. We determined that very sound soybean management strategies focused on the fundamentals of yield are the most likely to produce high yields. Some of the other practices we tested were less likely to provide consistent yield increases. That research effort helped answer relevant questions at the time and helped us develop better research programs now. I am amazed at how many producers still reference that research.

How has the soybean checkoff enhanced your ability to find answers to production problems for farmers?
We would not be able to conduct soybean research without the soybean checkoff. Nearly all our soybean research is funded by the checkoff. Most of that comes from our state soybean board. I am impressed at how well our producers understand their production challenges, how well they communicate with my colleagues and me, and how well we work together on questions relevant to growers. The national checkoff allows agronomists to coordinate research and Extension efforts across soybean-growing areas. National funding has helped each of us improve our soybean research programs locally and identify challenges and issues that span the U.S.

Within your area of expertise, what are the top two or three general recommendations you would offer farmers to improve their management practices?
These recommendations are in the context of increased input prices for 2022:

  • Make sure adequate potassium (K) is available for the crop. If soils tests are high for K, do not apply more. If soils tests are low, apply all that is needed. Do not skimp.
  • Plant into as favorable of conditions as possible. There is a lot of interest in early planting dates, and we are studying that. One thing is clear: if we plant into stressful conditions that slow emergence, we have very little chance of maximizing yields.
  • Keep weeds away from soybeans and use soil residual herbicides. Since some herbicide supplies are low, this is a great year to bring residual herbicides into the system. If weeds get away, then high yields are not going to happen. Use full rates.

Within your area of expertise, what do you consider to be critical soybean research needs that can impact the profitability of farmers in the future?

  • Soybean planting date and flowering relative to summer solstice. There is a tremendous amount of interest in this topic yet yield data from farmers in our state suggest that early planting dates are less of a factor than weather during pod set and seed fill.
  • Improving our understanding of the probability of yield increases. There are numerous products and practices all advertised to increase yields by “3 to 5 bushels.” Those numbers are often in the range of variability in our trials and extremely difficult to confirm with replicated research. Our efforts across the country can help us better understand those probabilities and improve the knowledge for farmers to make decisions.
  • Improving yield potential in double-crop soybeans. This is a regional issue, where we plant soybeans in June after wheat harvest. The soybeans often have a lower yield than full-season soybeans planted in May. The last decade of weather has been favorable for high double-crop yields and that allows us to be more aggressive with management.