Journalists are born skeptics. So when photos of four-soybean pods started circulating this summer along with higher yield claims, I wanted to see in-field proof.
Sure enough, combing through rows of Asgrow Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2Y) soybeans in Ron Sloan's fields, I found four-bean pods—nearly one per plant. More beans per pod doesn't mean more overall yield, but I watched Sloan's combine yield monitor hit a high of 88 bu. and a low of 63 bu. in the same Assumption, Ill., field.
Granted, it was a seed field—all of Monsanto Company's RR2Y soybeans grown in 2008 went for seed increase. The technology will be in production on 1 million to 2 million acres in 2009. Planted at 125,000 seeds per acre, Sloan's crop received a plant health application of Headline fungicide and Warrior insecticide at R2 to R3 growth stage. "The technology averaged 69 bu. per acre on 2,500 acres, 8 bu. to 9 bu. per acre better than traditional varieties,” Sloan says. "Seed quality was excellent. I think cutting back on seeding rate helped—it gave them elbow room to branch out and set pods.”
New yield enhancing soybean traits have been the big news at field days this fall. Pioneer Hi-Bred International plans a full launch of the company's new Accelerated Yield Technology "Y” Series soybeans next spring. Seed grower Al Eekhoff, Kanawha, Iowa, grew 92Y30, a Group 2.3 number in 2008. "Despite a cold and wet growing season, I was pleased—this new technology should really shine in more normal year,” he says. Using proprietary molecular marker breeding techniques, Pioneer scientists can select native genes associated with high yields and stack them into Pioneer varietal lines.
Most of the traits we've seen in soybeans have been defensive traits that protect but don't necessarily add to yield, says Palle Pedersen, Iowa State University Extension soybean agronomist. "The genetics coming now are the next step as companies use biotechnology techniques to pinpoint yield characteristics and introduce them into their breeding programs,” Pedersen says. "Our work with new technologies like RR2Y shows the high-yielding genetics are performing as advertised with no real changes in management by the grower,” he adds.
On average, U.S. soybean yields have been growing by 0.4 bu. per year. However, Sloan felt his soybean yields slipping in the past few years—especially when compared with leaps in corn production. "I just felt we were treading water on soybeans until this year.” Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996, and this is the first big breakthrough since that time, agrees Cindy Arnevik, RR2Y technical lead for Monsanto. The science behind RR2Y is tied to the use of Agrobacterium transformation. "This transformation process is more efficient [than the gene gun], allowing our scientists to create a larger number of unique insertion events in the same amount of time, while maintaining the genetic integrity of the area surrounding where the Roundup Ready gene had been inserted,” she explains.
Using information obtained via gene mapping, Monsanto identified DNA regions that positively impact yield. "Using advanced selection technologies, the Roundup Ready gene is situated in one of these DNA regions,” Arnevik says. Field trials have shown yield increases of 7% to 11% compared with current Roundup Ready lines.
Yield is hard to visualize with soybeans. One extra bean per plant can mean an increase of 1 bu. per acre. Sloan noticed other differences, too. "Emergence was excellent, even though we had a cold, wet spring.
In 2009, Monsanto will implement a soybean pricing model that reflects trait, germplasm and seed treatment values on a per-acre basis. RR2Y varieties will be sold as 140,000 seed units. Farmers can expect to pay $69 to $72 per acre for the RR2Y platform and $49 to $52 per acre for the Asgrow Roundup Ready platform.
You can e-mail Pam Henderson Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.