Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Multi-Regional Research Collaboration Focuses on Soybean Flower and Pod Retention for Improved Yield

First-of-its-Kind Research Identifies $400 Million in Unrealized Soybean Value

In some instances, two heads are better than one. For a new multi-regional research effort, five organizations put their heads together to achieve full genetic yield potential of the soybean. A new partnership, the first of its kind in more than 40 years, aims to increase soybean flower and pod retention. This unrealized value could bring $50 per acre or $400 million in economic return for U.S. soybean farmers.

The collaborative focus will document how different environmental conditions impact flower bud retention. Flower production dictates the final pod number and, ultimately, yield in soybeans. The Atlantic Soybean Council, Mid-South Soybean Board, North Central Soybean Research Program, Southern Soybean Research Program and United Soybean Board all agree this is a priority issue impacting the entire industry. 

“Farmer-leaders across the major soybean regions came together and asked: ‘What roadblocks do we face, and how can we combine research dollars to make the most impact?’” says Suzanne Shirbroun, president of the North Central Soybean Research Program and Iowa farmer. “While we all farm differently across the country, we also share common challenges. Together we can focus on one large-scale research objective to reduce a major deterrent that limits productivity. This is one example of how we can invest checkoff dollars collectively that benefits soybean farmers across 30-plus states.” 

Texas Tech University, in collaboration with Kansas State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Tennessee, will lead the research on this national effort. At the helm, Principal Investigator Krishna Jagadish at Texas Tech University will compile data from soybeans in dryland, irrigated, severe drought and heat stress growing conditions. The researchers involved will assess diverse genotypes with publicly available whole genome resequencing data over the span of this three-year farmer investment.

“There is limited information on the genetic diversity for the flower retention trait,” says Jagadish. “Despite soybeans having the ability to produce an enormous number of flowers, the plants lose about 25 to 35% under favorable conditions, and up to 80% of flowers are lost under drought or heat stress.”

Through field trials, the team will investigate 250 highly diverse soybean germplasm in Maturity Groups 2–4 to determine the extent of flower loss. They will conduct the trials in Kansas and Missouri in the northern region, and Texas and Tennessee in the southern region. 

The research needs to begin with a high number of different genotypes to account for different growing regions as well as varied soil moisture and weather conditions. 

“The germplasm will be narrowed down as the project progresses to focus on cultivars that retain more flowers but also those that show favorable photosynthesis and nutrient transport to help fill the additional retained pods,” Jagadish says. “The overall project goal is to increase flower and pod retention by 20 to 30%. That in turn could enhance yields by 10 to 15%.”

The research team hopes the progress they achieve will translate to other soybean maturity groups across the country.

“The alignment of research priorities like this project enables groundbreaking collaboration by regional soybean groups,” says Keenan McRoberts, USB vice president of strategic alignment.

“This partnership and resulting collaborative investment could improve the future of soybean production. It has the potential to strengthen soybean resiliency, increase productivity and bring economic returns back to the farm.”

Published: Jun 26, 2023