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Public Soybean Breeding/Genetics for the Midsouth

It is well known that the vast majority of the Midsouth’s soybean acres are planted to varieties that were developed and released by private seed companies, and that essentially all the US soybean acres are planted to transgenic soybean varieties. However, the region’s public soybean breeders and geneticists are still very active in developing and releasing new conventional (non-GMO) soybean varieties that are adapted to Midsouth growing conditions. Conventional varieties can be a viable alternative to transgenic varieties for the following reasons.

    Conventional varieties offer seed cost savings and/or non-GMO crop premiums at the delivery point.

    Conventional varieties offer plant breeders a genetic background that is free of transgenes, thus providing freedom to make crosses without restrictions.

    Because conventional varieties are free of transgenes, they are not subject to regulations which may limit plant breeders.

    New conventional varieties can serve as high-yielding genetic backgrounds for development of future transgenic varieties.

In an early 2015 blog, I discussed how the world’s population will increase its consumption of animal protein in the coming decade, and how soybeans will figure prominently in supplying the feed protein to support increased animal production.

In Jan. 2015, the University of Arkansas announced the release of a high-protein conventional soybean variety that is aimed at the animal feed market. According to that release, this new variety, called UA 5814HP, is a late (5.8) MG V soybean that has an average seed protein content of about 45.5% of dry weight at maturity. Its average yield over four years of testing at 12 Arkansas locations was 58.8 bu/acre, which was at or near the yields from commonly grown popular varieties that were used for comparison.

According to the 2016 results from the University of Tennessee Soybean Variety Trials, seed of commonly grown varieties contain about 39-40% protein. Thus, the protein content of UA 5814HP is considerably higher than the average protein content of current varieties.

Dr. Vince Pantalone, project leader for the Univ. of Tennessee’s soybean breeding and genetics program, recently announced the release of Ellis, a late MG IV (4.9) conventional soybean variety (MidAmerica Farmer Grower, Oct. 7, 2016). Ellis is high-yielding, and has resistance to stem canker, root knot nematode, and frogeye leaf spot in the field. The protein content of Ellis seed enable it to produce high protein meal (>48% protein in the meal fraction). He is currently working on developing the Roundup Ready (RR) version of Ellis, and it should be released within the next 2 years. The seed costs of the forthcoming RR Ellis should be lower with the expiration of the RR gene patent in 2015.

Dr. Pantalone and his group are well along in developing and releasing a variety that has strong resistance to sudden death syndrome (SDS), a prominent disease in West Tenn. SDS is becoming prevalent in the lower Midsouth, as documented in a previous blog and a report of disease presence in the Midsouth. His team also is working on improving soybean oil quality by increasing oleic acid (high oleic soybean varieties) and lowering linolenic acid composition in soybean seed to meet the oil quality demands of the food industry.

In Mississippi, the MSPB is funding the following research that is being conducted by USDA-ARS scientists at Stoneville, MS. (Click here to find more detail about these projects).

    Dr. Shuxian Li, Research Plant Pathologist, is evaluating soybean breeding lines (Project No. 31-2016) for resistance to Phomopsis seed decay (PSD) in order to identify agronomically acceptable PSD-resistant lines that can be used to develop PSD-resistant varieties.

    Dr. Jeff Ray, Research Geneticist, is conducting a project (32-2016) that is designed to develop molecular data that will be used to map frogeye leaf spot (FLS)-resistant genes that will ultimately lead to identification of FLS-resistant soybean germplasm. This germplasm will in turn be used to develop FLS-resistant varieties. This approach is meaningful since genetic resistance to FLS may be the only effective long-term control measure for this significant disease.

    Dr. Rusty Smith, Research Geneticist, has developed heat-tolerant MG III soybean lines that are being grown in the field (67-2016) by Dr. John Orlowski, MSU-DREC Soybean Agronomist, to determine their productivity and seed quality compared to traditional MG III soybean varieties. The premise is that this heat tolerance may reduce seed wrinkling and other seed quality problems that can be problematic with seed harvested from early-planted, early-maturing dryland soybean production systems in the Midsouth.

    Dr. Sally Stetina, Research Plant Pathologist, is conducting research (33-2016) to characterize reniform nematode (RN) development on soybean lines and resistant accessions in order to develop and advance soybean germplasm lines with resistance to RN. This research is meaningful because soybean varieties with RN resistance should be selected for planting in a rotation with cotton.

You probably won’t see the direct benefits from the above efforts identified in newly released private soybean varieties. That is because much of the improved/enhanced germplasm resulting from these projects and programs will be incorporated into new soybean varieties with no recognition given to the developer of the new genetics that provide enhancements to these new varieties. Nowadays, the benefit from the public soybean breeding and genetics programs like those above will be in supplying improved germplasm to developers of private varieties. Of course, that may change if conventional public varieties are used on a wider scale, and that is certainly a possibility (see Jan. 26 2015 DFP).

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, Jan. 2017,