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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
National USDA Uniform Soybean Tests/Yield, Disease Resistance and Quality Traits Evaluation of Public Breeding Lines

Annual reports of the northern test, 1941-2018. Photo: United Soybean Board

By Dr. Anne Gillen, USDA Agricultural Research Service

The availability of objective and uniform field trial data is crucial for the development of new soybean varieties. Since 1936, the Uniform Soybean Tests have been one of the main mechanisms supporting the release of new soybean lines and germplasm in the United States.

This program was founded by the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory in Urbana, Illinois, and initially covered only the northern growing region. Through this program, public soybean breeders were able to obtain objective multistate field data on new cultivars. Due to an increased demand for vegetable oils (caused by wartime shortages), in 1943, the program was expanded to cover the southern states as well. The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Stoneville, Mississippi, has always managed the southern region test. Management of the northern test moved from the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory to the ARS at Purdue University in 1974, and has remained there ever since.

Over the decades, the Uniform Soybean Tests have been funded by ARS, universities and the United Soybean Board because they provided value to farmers through the lines that have been commercially released. In 2019, USB provided $57,530 to support this program.

The results of the Uniform Tests are publicly available and posted online at https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/stoneville-ms/crop-genetics-research/docs/uniformsoybean-tests/ (southern region) and https://www.ars.usda.gov/midwest-area/west-lafayette-in/crop-production-andpest-control-research/docs/uniform-soybean-testsnorthern-region/ (northern region). This unbiased evaluation and detailed analysis of new breeding lines allows public and private breeders to make informed decisions about future directions and potential release of new cultivars, as well as provides a valuable historical archive.

Recently, the focus of public breeding programs in the United States has shifted to include increasing protein content while maintaining oil and yield, and improving seed quality traits, in order to meet increasing competition from foreign soybean production and other oilseed crops. Funding provided by USB has allowed the Uniform Tests to analyze yield, seed composition, disease resistance and pest reaction relative to other currently available commercial cultivars, in addition to seed fatty acid, sugar and protein amino acid composition data. These data will show the value of non-GMO high oleic acid lines and will assist selection of modified carbohydrate lines to meet the current demands of the international soybean market, resulting in new, improved commercial seed varieties for farmers that will produce beans with an enhanced “nutritional bundle.”

A very important aspect of the tests is that they foster the exchange of lines, enabling public breeders to increase the genetic diversity of their programs, which is key to success. Public soybean breeders are willing and able to produce high-yielding cultivars that meet current production goals in all growing regions of the U.S., but they need objective multi-field data. The Uniform Soybean Tests provide that data, and the proof is in the products. Between 2013 and 2017, over 61 public cultivars — lines licensed to companies for sale to farmers, or germplasm lines — were released based on data from the southern test. Between 2013 and 2018, 131 public cultivars — lines licensed to companies and germplasm lines were released based on data from the northern region.

This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.