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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Breeding program narrows focus on key yield robbers, improved quality

by Southern Soybean Research Program

Increasing Profit Potential for Southern Farmers

A soybean breeder’s job is never done. After each discovery or stepping stone, soybean breeders like University of Geor­gia’s (UGA) Roger Boerma, Ph.D., take on new tasks and work toward even better crops for U.S. soybean farmers. Boerma currently works to improve soybean varieties for farmers and end-users. He participates in a collaborative effort called the Southern Soybean Research Program (SSRP), started by sev­eral state soybean checkoff boards throughout the South. The SSRP strives to improve profitability for southeastern soybean farmers.

Taking local pest pressure into consideration, Boerma man­ages a breeding effort funded by SSRP focused on reducing production costs, increasing yields and increasing soybean’s value for the livestock and poultry industries. Boerma partners with Vince Pantalone, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, as part of the collaborative approach that brings researchers from differ­ent universities together on specific projects.

“The entrance of South America in the global marketplace makes the competition even stronger for U.S. soybean farm­ers,” says Boerma. “By focusing on improving our varieties, the U.S. can stay ahead in yields and productivity.”

Taking on Diseases and Pests, Meeting Customer Demands

Boerma has a long history of fighting diseases and pests through soybean breeding. When Asian soybean rust made its U.S. debut in 2004, Boerma worked with other UGA research­ers to study the pest and its responses to various control methods. In fact, this team registered an Asian soybean rust-resistant germplasm that combined resistance of Asian soybean rust and southern root-knot nematode.

As Asian soybean rust continues to be a potential threat in the South, Boerma works to find management options, remov­ing some of the risk for soybean farmers.

“We know overwintering occurs with Asian soybean rust and the possibility exists every year for it to move farther north if conditions are right,” adds Boerma.

Soybean field challenges in the South aren’t limited to just Asian soybean rust. Boerma recognizes the need for soybeans that protect against key pests and diseases and enhance grow­ers’ profit potential through better yields.

“Soybean cyst nematode and frogeye leaf spot present threats to soybean fields across the South limiting farmers’ profitability,” says Boerma. “The SSRP-funded project looks into managing these pests to help farmers get more out of every acre.”

Boerma and Pantalone’s current research centers on improv­ing soybean varieties in maturity group (MG) V through early MG VIII. The project’s objective also focuses on increasing protein content and quality and decreasing phytic acid levels while incorporating the resistance to Asian soybean rust, frog­eye leaf spot and SCN into existing Genuity® RoundUp Ready 2 Yield® (RR2Y®) varieties.

Combining University Genetics with Industry Traits, New Advancements

As seed technology companies release new traits, like RR2Y or Bayer CropScience’s LibertyLink®, Boerma and fellow re­searchers are charged with inserting these traits into soybean lines used by Southern soybean farmers.

“Together, we are focusing on lowering production costs and raising revenues for soybean farmers,” says Boerma. “Thanks in part to the soybean checkoff, we have the technology need-ed to do our research in an effective way.” “The transgenic traits offer soybean farmers something that we don’t have available publicly,” says Boerma. “By putting the transgenic traits with our genetics, farmers are getting two for one. The benefit of the two together outweighs each individu­ally.”

Boerma’s research selects high-yielding conventional variet­ies from southeastern soybean states and introduces traits into those productive lines.

“The technology providers serve a larger area and need to accommodate broader issues,” adds Boerma. “Our regional genetics focus on problems here and help our farmers manage specific concerns.”

The industry traits promise herbicide resistance with some yield advantages over previous products, but Boerma also looks to add value to the soybean varieties in his study. Aside from management traits, Boerma looks to introgress low-phytate and high-protein quality traits into these conventional varieties.

“Anytime you have poultry and livestock production, specifi­cally swine, you’re going to have a lot of soybean meal being consumed,” says Boerma. “With normal phytate soybeans, the animals consume a lot of phosphorus, but they don’t process it and it gets released into the environment.”

Environmental concerns factor into lowering phytates. In fact, some areas have already enacted state laws to control it.

“Livestock producers in the Delmarva peninsula bordering the Chesapeake Bay already felt the repercussions of phytates,” adds Boerma. “We’re trying to avert an environmental problem regionally before it happens.”

With higher protein levels, Boerma helps soybean farmers meet their poultry and livestock customers’ needs as well. A higher quality protein meal better matches the requirements of feed manufacturers and poultry and livestock producers and enhances soybean’s value for these customers. Boerma’s re­search has identified characteristics that could increase protein levels 3.5 to 4.5 percent in some varieties.

The Latest Breeding Techniques

For his projects, Boerma’s research takes advantage of tech­nology that resulted from another soybean checkoff-funded project, the mapping of the soybean genome. Boerma uses DNA-marker-assisted breeding to identify breeding lines pos­sessing the correct genetics for resistance.

Researchers like Boerma use DNA-marker-assisted selection to identify breeding lines for a number of different genes at the same time. This process speeds up the time line for bringing new or improved varieties to the market.

“Breeding used to take at least 10 years to complete, some­times 11,” says Boerma. “Today, thanks to DNA-markers, we can provide new varieties in as little as five years.”

Collaborative Efforts

Boerma and Pantalone’s research represents one project in the broader scope of the SSRP. This research partnership com­bines four soybean checkoff boards from Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee to coordinate and fund production research that helps benefit the Southern soybean-producing region.

“Our research focuses on real problems facing soybean farmers,” adds Boerma. “One thousand bushels per acre would be great, but at this point we focus on problems that can be solved for farmers now.”

The soybean checkoff champions collaborative research on both a regional and national basis. Checkoffs bring researchers from various universities together to work toward a common goal. Researchers join together based on their individual spe­cialties, and proposals are written representing all collaborat­ing universities. More than 1,000 researchers work on soy­bean research projects funded by state and national soybean checkoff dollars.

Other checkoff-funded research includes drought-tolerance research, optimal planting date research and research that focuses on yield threats like the bean pod mottle virus.

“Together, we are focusing on lowering production costs and raising revenues for soybean farmers,” says Boerma. “Thanks in part to the soybean checkoff, we have the technology needed to do our research in an effective way.”