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Crop Tech

December 13, 2008
 
 

Baby Those Beans
John Endsley would wrap each soybean that passes through his seed house in bubble wrap if it were practical. Instead, the manager of Monsanto Company's Mason City, Ill., soybean plant oversees a mechanical bulk-handling system designed to baby soybeans all the way to the bag.

Germination tests show the seed crop is faring better than last year. Supply is looking good too.



Still, Mother Nature displays a heavy hand in the seed quality equation. Last year, some sectors of the seed industry struggled with quality and quantity issues as drought and disease combined with an abnormally warm harvest period.

So far, this year is shaping up much better for soybean seed, Endsley says. He manages one of the main sites for cleaning and conditioning Monsanto's new Roundup Ready 2 Yield technology. The company is gearing up for the new high-yielding soybean lines that will be planted on 1 to 2 million acres in 2009. A full commercial launch in set for 2010.
"Germination is well beyond 90%, and we're seeing very little to no presence of disease,” he says. "Many beans have come in requiring very little cleanout.”

Spring flooding and late-planted fields yielding a later harvest, coupled with a cool August and September, caused some worries. But Don Schafer, Pioneer Hi-Bred International senior marketing manager for soybeans, says the soybean seed crop appears to be in very good shape—in terms of quality and quantity.

"We produce soybeans in different locations to avoid production challenges in particular regions that could impact supply,” Schafer says. Pioneer went to the field this year to produce enough Y Series soybean seed to plant 9 million acres with at least 32 different varieties in 2009. "Yields for the Y Series look very good, and the 9 million acreage number should be obtained if sales go as expected. Pioneer has over 40% of its current invoices in Y Series products, demonstrating that customer demand is high for these new products,” Schafer says.

The same goes for Northrup King soybean lines. "Early indications for the 2008 seed crop is that it is of very good quality normal seed size distribution,” says Gene Kassmeyer, head of the soybeans and miscellaneous field crop product lines for Syngenta.


Race Against Rust
Portions of the southern soybean growing region may experience soybean rust fungus Phakopsora pachyrhizi (P. pachyrhizi) every year, but so far, most growers live with more threat

These soybeans growing in a Monsanto test plot carry a naturally occurring resistant gene that shows an immune reaction to soybean rust.

than disease.

Now there's hope that technology may be a match for the soybean stalker. DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International plans to commercialize soybean varieties that carry multiple sources of soybean rust resistance by 2012 in Brazil and by 2013 in the U.S. Pioneer is also pursuing transgenic modes of resistance.

This summer, Farm Journal found varieties with Rpp1 rust resistance in a Monsanto Company technology showcase. The Rpp1 gene confers an immune reaction when inoculated with isolates of the disease.

Ben Kampelman, Monsanto spokesperson, says rust resistance is in the breeding equivalent of phase two in the company's pipeline. "We would expect it to be in farmers' fields shortly after the turn of the decade,” he says. "Following that trait in our R&D breeding process is a ‘slow rusting' package of genes in soybeans. These genes offer a broader spectrum of control of soybean rust, and we expect to commercialize about the middle of next decade.”

Molecular biologist Kerry Pedley at USDA–Agricultural Research Service's Foreign Disease–Weed Science Research Unit in Fort Detrick, Md., is using gene silencing to discover plant genes that orchestrate defense responses to the fungus in resistant soybeans. Gene silencing allows scientists to identify a gene's function by disabling that gene in the plant.

In Pedley's studies, gene-silenced plants will be inoculated with spores of P. pachyrhizi and monitored for a breakdown in resistance. The goal is to streamline development of new cultivars that withstand P. pachyrhizi. Pedley is working with Iowa State University scientists in the studies.

 


A New Seed Family
The names won't change, but four U.S. regional seed companies have a new parent in Dow AgroSciences LLC. The acquisitions come in the past 12 months as the company builds a global seeds platform.

The companies, Renze, Brodbeck, Dairyland and Triumph, will continue to be marketed under their own labels. "We have seen examples of one seed company buying another and trying to stick them into a new brand. It didn't work very well,” says Stan Howell, vice president, North America regional commercial unit. "There's a lot of loyalty with these regional companies, and we respect that.”

The Indianapolis-based firm has had a presence in the seed business since the early 1990s when it acquired United AgriSeeds.

 
Joining Mycogen, Dow AgtoSciences portfolio of seed brands now includes four new seed companies to expand their geographic reach.



In the mid-1990s, it acquired the Mycogen label. Mycogen started in 1981 as a biotech company specializing in progressive transgenic research. It was one of the first to market with corn hybrids resistant to European corn borer. In addition to its grain corn business, Mycogen is the largest sunflower seed producer, a leader in silage-specific corn and it offers soybean, alfalfa, sorghum and canola seed. Dow AgroSciences sells cotton under the PhytoGen Seed brand.

The new members to the Dow AgroSciences family expand the company's presence in several geographic regions as the company commercializes Herculex Insect Protection traits and SmartStax—the eight-way stack that integrates aboveground and belowground insecticidal modes of action with herbicide tolerant traits.

Regulatory trials are also under way with Dow AgroSciences Herbicide Tolerance (DHT) traits that will provide tolerance to broadleaf and grass herbicides, including 2,4-D and "fop” herbicides. The company expects to launch DHT corn traits as early as 2012, with soybeans and cotton to follow in 2013.


Rootworm Yield Connection
Any sports coach will tell you a good defense is also a good offense. The corn rootworm trait fits that philosophy, says University of Illinois plant physiologist Fred Below.
 

Correlations between rootworm genes and yield have been seen in Illinois corn fields, says Fred Below, University of Illinois plant physiologist.


While investigating nitrogen uptake in corn during the past few years, Below began to notice that corn hybrids containing the rootworm trait consistently crank out more yield compared with other hybrids when everything else is equal. Soil insecticides were applied to all hybrids in the trials.

"We're still getting the numbers to prove this, but anecdotally I am willing to say that there seems to be some relationship between the rootworm trait protecting the root system and yield,” Below says. He says the Bt corn borer trait does not seem to have the same impact.

"I've seen up to 30 bu. differences,” he says. "I think we're seeing a healthy root does a lot of nice things for the plant.”

Stay tuned for more evidence. Below says he's not the only one to notice the relationship and more research is under way.





 


Boll Weevil Blues
Bye-bye boll weevil. It's hard to believe, but the insect that once nearly drove cotton farmers out of business is practically on the endangered list.

This summer, the state of Mississippi captured only three boll weevils in its network of traps. Darrin Dodds, Mississippi State University cotton specialist, says the pests are no longer an issue in cotton farming. The state has even named an entomologist the official state boll weevil identifier as farmers forget what the pest looks like.

David Bennett, Benton County, Miss., won't forget that he and his father once ran a sprayer seven days a week trying to keep boll weevils at bay. "You could keep them from wiping you out, but you never could get rid of them,” he says. "It wasn't anything to walk out in a field and see 10 to 12 on a single bloom.”

Researchers estimate that boll weevils have cost U.S. cotton producers a total of $13 billion. The national boll weevil eradication program began in 1983, moving from east to west. States and regions could enter the program only after efforts were successful east of them. When boll weevil eradication began in Mississippi in 1997, the pests numbered in the thousands per acre. Bye-bye boll weevil. It's hard to believe, but the insect that once nearly drove cotton farmers out of business is practically on the endangered list.

This summer, the state of Mississippi captured only three boll weevils in its network of traps. Darrin Dodds, Mississippi State University cotton specialist, says the pests are no longer an issue in cotton farming. The state has even named an entomologist the official state boll weevil identifier as farmers forget what the pest looks like.

David Bennett, Benton County, Miss., won't forget that he and his father once ran a sprayer seven days a week trying to keep boll weevils at bay. "You could keep them from wiping you out, but you never could get rid of them,” he says. "It wasn't anything to walk out in a field and see 10 to 12 on a single bloom.”

Researchers estimate that boll weevils have cost U.S. cotton producers a total of $13 billion. The national boll weevil eradication program began in 1983, moving from east to west. States and regions could enter the program only after efforts were successful east of them. When boll weevil eradication began in Mississippi in 1997, the pests numbered in the thousands per acre.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - December 2008

 
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