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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Piloting Diverse Breeding Program to Tackle Specific Regional Needs

Minnesota soybean breeders focus on developing early maturing varieties and incorporating novel forms of pest and disease resistance into Minnesota-adapted germplasm, including novel sources of soybean cyst nematode, aphid and Phytophthora resistance.

By Barb Baylor Anderson

Every state’s soybean breeding program takes particular interest in meeting specific production needs of its farmers. In Minnesota, Aaron Lorenz, University of Minnesota soybean breeding and genetics associate professor, is leading a program focused on developing early maturing varieties and incorporating novel forms of pest and disease resistance into Minnesota-adapted germplasm.

“Advancement of soybean germplasm for Minnesota takes multiple forms,” says Lorenz, who is principal investigator for the program funded by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC). “Our efforts range from release and licensure of general-purpose soybean varieties to the development of specialty soybean varieties that command a premium to integrating the right pest resistance into elite northern-adapted soybean varieties. We are effectively creating a bridge between researchers and the soybeans grown in farmers’ fields.”

“Profitability for Minnesota soybean farmers is the number one goal of the MSR&PC, which naturally leads to investing checkoff dollars in production research,” says Gail Donkers, soybean farmer from Faribault, Minnesota, and district director. “It is always exciting to see new research projects and proposals each year and to fund proposals that align with our goals.”

During the last year, Minnesota soybean breeders working in variety development successfully made new breeding crosses and advanced breeding populations containing traits such as high oleic, novel sources of soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistance, aphid resistance and Phytophthora resistance. The next step will be using those as sources for future new varieties.

“We also screened thousands of candidate breeding lines and varieties through our statewide testing network,” says Lorenz. “This past year, the University of Minnesota Soybean Breeding Program released one new germplasm line for high protein, made two public cultivar releases, transferred 12 lines to private companies for crossing, transferred 18 lines to private companies for testing, and transferred 12 lines to other public institutions for crossing.”

Lorenz explains the most common mechanism for getting new varieties to farmers in the past was through the release of public cultivars. But more and more, the primary avenue to farmers is through licensure of new varieties for direct commercialization or for breeding.

“A particular highlight of 2020 was the advancement of many new high oleic varieties in the breeding pipeline. Foundation seed of one new promising high oleic, low linolenic line with high yield and SCN resistance will be available for commercialization soon,” he says.

The University of Minnesota also conducts the Minnesota Soybean Variety Trials, which include both commercial and publicly developed soybean varieties. Published results provide an unbiased source of information to assist farmers in selecting high-yielding, high-quality varieties suitable for their operations. In 2020, trials included 140 varieties tested at two or three locations suitable to their respective maturity groups. Results are found at soybeans.umn.edu.

Lorenz adds that their breeding technology research now incorporates development and testing of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system for predicting date of maturity in soybean plots. An image analysis pipeline and statistical model were developed and shared with other breeders.

“Our breeding program has been routinely using this method to save time and resources that were previously used on human visual dating,” he says.

Lorenz also notes they are developing new database capabilities to lay the foundation for genomics-assisted breeding and gene mapping. Establishing a genomic and phenotypic database will assist breeders with predictive models for breeding so a more efficient and effective breeding pipeline can maximize the success of identifying new superior varieties in the future.

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.