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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Evaluating Soybean Breeding Lines to Meet South Carolina Challenges

By Barb Baylor Anderson

Clemson University’s soybean breeding program adds value to the crop in South Carolina through development of varieties that address growing condition challenges as well as improve marketability. With funding from the South Carolina Soybean Board, researchers like Benjamin Fallen, former head of Clemson’s soybean breeding and genetics program, evaluate breeding lines for managing issues like drought, test weight, seed composition and quality and yield.

“Not only do we want to develop varieties that yield well, we try to incorporate other traits that help meet exactly what the market demands,” says Fallen, principal investigator for the checkoff research. “We are also working on traits such as nematode resistance, disease resistance and increasing genetic diversity. Farmers are smart and have to make tough decisions every year to address challenges. Our goal is to provide them options and resources to make those decisions.”

Drought tolerance is one area of focus. Less than two percent of soybeans are irrigated in South Carolina, so developing drought tolerant soybean varieties is a critical focus. Fallen is working with a team of scientists from throughout the Midwest and Southeast to improve drought tolerance and says some newly developed breeding material shows promise for the Carolinas.

“We are a few years out from seeing a variety with drought tolerance developed from soybean breeding research at Clemson University. But we have conducted drought stress trials for the past two years and have a couple of lines that look really good,” he says. “A few years may seem like a long time, but a lot of the lines we are screening have been under development for six-plus years. We want to make sure anything we release is tried and true under as many field conditions as we can test and then get them approved for release and commercialized.”

Fallen adds that yield research focuses on selection, adaptation and genetic stock. “We want each variety released to be proven, no matter what growing conditions, pests or diseases occur in any given year,” he says. “New genetic material is added to our breeding program annually, including high-yielding lines from local programs and exotic material from other countries.”

Other research efforts underway include increasing protein and oleic acid content while lowering linolenic acid content and developing a Maturity Group VI glyphosate-tolerant (RR1) variety.

“Much of what we do is only possible through collaboration. What I develop is usually adapted to the Southeast, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be used in the Midwest or northern United States,” says Fallen. “I exchange germplasm with collaborators as far north as Minnesota and collaborate with soybean breeders in Canada. Then the real advantage is developing varieties locally in the same environment where South Carolina farmers are going to grow them.”

To find research related to this Research Highlight, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.