A Better Bean

December 10, 2011 12:43 AM
A Better Bean

New traits take oilseeds beyond ordinary

Cool beans. The product pipeline is starting to fill with new soybean traits that benefit both farmers and consumers.

"We’re calling the years ahead ‘the decade of the bean,’" says Roy Fuchs, Monsanto Company’s global oilseed technology lead. "Growers are going to see the soybean get a makeover."

These magic beans won’t reach skyward as in "Jack and the Beanstalk," but they will offer new traits that boost intrinsic yield, resist drought, fight nematodes, help manage aphids and provide multiple over-the-top herbicide options. Varieties containing a trait that bestows new heart-healthy oil attributes head to the field this year too.

University of Wisconsin soybean specialist Shawn Conley says soybean growers will need to sharpen their management skills to take advantage of all this innovation.

"The Roundup Ready trait has made growing soybeans simple since 1996. We’re entering a much more complex era that will require attention to detail that hasn’t traditionally been applied to soybean production," he says.

Conley notes that variety selection becomes especially important as traits get stacked and growers have more choices. Prices are likely to edge up as more value gets placed into the seed.
"Yield is still the main driver," Conley says. "Once you have selected a group of high-yielding varieties, it is time to choose those that have disease, weed or insect tolerances that meet your specific needs."

He notes that in Wisconsin, soybean cyst nematode (SCN), brown stem rot and white mold are the largest annual concerns. On the other hand, controlling pigweed likely tops the list in Southern states.

Game changers. While much of the spotlight is focused on new biotech events, Fuchs notes that molecular markers continue to help improve soybeans through conventional breeding efforts too. Traditional breeding traits also don’t have the same regulatory hurdles to go through as genetically modified solutions and are less complicated to bring to market.

"Just inserting a genetically modified trait does not ensure a better bean right away. It takes a couple of years for a new trait in soybeans to reach its value proposition," Fuchs says.

"Getting to market is only part of the push. The trait must be put into a breadth of genetics and combined with best management practices and correct placement of product in the field before it realizes its true potential. All of the pieces are coming together to begin maximizing yield," he says.

A Better Bean   2
The first biotech soybean trait aimed at consumers is coming in 2012, says Steve Schnebly, Pioneer soybean researcher.

Get healthy oils

You’ve heard it before: The public has been slow to swallow biotech traits because those that are available benefit the grower rather than the consumer. That will change in 2012.

Fresh from Pioneer Hi-Bred’s pipeline is Plenish, the first high-oleic soybean to hit the seed sack and the first soybean biotech trait with a direct consumer benefit. With more than 75% oleic acid and less than 3% linolenic acid, Plenish has zero grams trans fat and 20% less saturated fat than commodity soybean oil.

Commercialization is anticipated in 2012 upon full global regulatory approval and field testing. Grain processors Archer Daniels Midland Company and Bunge North America have already announced 2012 contract programs for soybeans containing the new trait.

Monsanto comes to market with a high-oleic, low-saturate soybean called Vistive Gold and a soybean designed to produce oil with omega-3 fatty acids in the 2013–2014 time frame. Both of these new traits will be built on the Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2Y) platform. Several universities are also testing public varieties with healthy oil attributes.

Steve Schnebly, Pioneer senior soybean research manager, says the Plenish line was developed by "silencing" a gene present in the endogenous fatty acid pathway.

These varieties will differ from the current low-linolenic varieties that are on the market. "High-oleic soybean oil is more stable, performs better for frying and has utility in industrial applications," Schnebly says.

"For the grower, Plenish is being delivered in our elite commercial varieties with a whole package of defensive traits—including SCN resistance, Phythophthora and SDS tolerance," he adds.

Stalk the silent killer

Nearly every soybean-growing area is now infested with soybean cyst nematode (SCN). If your yields have flatlined, there’s a good chance this pest is the culprit.

Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta all have an SCN biotech trait in their product pipeline, but genetically altered answers are not likely until the latter part of the decade.

The key to managing SCN remains resistant soybean varieties, says Greg Tylka, an Iowa State University plant pathologist. The challenge is that the primary source of resistant germplasm remains PI 88788, despite the fact that nematodes are challenging it in some fields. Peking and PI 437654 (often called Hartwig, PUSCN-14 or CystX) resistance are common alternatives. The good news is you’ll find more varieties with these alternative resistant sources in seed catalogs for 2012.

John Latham of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds in Alexander, Iowa, says growers struggling with SCN are hungry to get CystX varieties and his company is offering the trait stacked with Roundup Ready and RR2Y technologies.

"It is not easy to work with from a breeding standpoint because there are multiple resistance genes that must be bred into a soybean line to achieve CystX resistance," Latham says.

"We’ve worked with a number of different parents and we are finally getting it into varieties without sacrificing yield," he says.

"It’s not for every acre, but we’ve seen evidence that use of CystX can bring cyst numbers down. We’re also seeing additional benefits in reduced sudden death syndrome. It makes for healthy plants," Latham says.

University of Missouri soybean breeder Grover Shannon has used Hartwig to breed two public, mid-Group V maturity, conventional releases called Jake and Stoddard for Southern growers. The varieties have become popular because they both have broad resistance to SCN and resistance to root knot nematode. The Jake variety also carries resistance to reniform nematode.

Tylka says his studies have shown that SCN-resistant soybean varieties with PI 88788 can yield remarkably well even when grown in fields with SCN populations that have 25% or more
reproduction on PI 88788.

"There are different levels of resistance expressed within PI 88788 and rotating varieties helps extend their usefulness and reduce the impact of SCN," Tylka says. Some varieties from Iowa State University’s breeding program now contain unique sources of SCN resistance and some possess resistance from multiple sources.

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Researchers continue to work to unlock the soybean’s genetic secrets. Stacks of traits are coming for the oilseed.

Stack the herbicides

The issue of weed resistance to glyphosate is forcing the seed industry to look at the crop protection side of the equation, says David Thompson, national marketing and sales director for Stine Seed Company, Adel, Iowa.

"Our breeding program is gearing up now for the next big thing, which will be stacked herbicide tolerances such as we have today in corn," he says.

The first of the stacks is expected in the soybean field around 2014 or 2015, pending regulatory approvals. Monsanto is developing tolerance to dicamba. Dow AgroSciences is coming to market with the Enlist Weed Control System, a 2,4-D choline-based technology. Bayer CropScience is
focusing on HPPD tolerance. All of these trait-tolerant technologies will appear in seed that is stacked with glyphosate and/or glufosinate tolerances.

Disbelief and denial has been a challenging mindset to overcome with regard to herbicide resistance, says Andy Hurst, Bayer CropScience product manager, herbicide-tolerant traits.

"All of the new technologies—including HPPD traits—are going to be in addition to or complimentary to Ignite [glufosinate] and glyphosate," Hurst says. "Rotation of mode of action is the key to maintaining all our herbicide tools."

Bayer CropScience’s purchase of Hornbeck Seed Company was big news in 2011. "We continue to expand the number of LibertyLink varieties and maturity range in the marketplace," Hurst says.

Varieties range from Group 0.5 to 5.9 for 2012 and will expand to 0.5 to 7.0 for 2013. "The breeding program is full, the genetic pool is large and our polls show growers are more than satisfied with both weed control and yield of LibertyLink varieties," Hurst says.

Answer to aphids

Scientists have been searching for genetic resistance to the soybean aphid since it was first discovered in the U.S. in 2000. Soybean seed companies predict that it will be at least 2015 or
beyond before a genetically modified trait to fight aphids becomes available to farmers.

Currently, the tool of choice for a number of seed companies is host plant resistance through
Rag genes that suppress aphid growth and reproduction on the soybean plant.

For example, Syngenta commercialized a fully integrated Aphid Management System in 2010, utilizing the Rag1 gene. Quinn Showalter, commercial trait lead for Syngenta, says growers notice a significant difference in soybean aphid population growth in varieties that contain the Rag1 gene.

"This is an integrated program that includes seed treatment, scouting and using varieties containing the trait. We provide our foliar insecticide free of charge to growers who follow the program and have fields that reach aphid threshold," Showalter says.

John Gerard, president of Access Plant Technologies in Plymouth, Ind., says second-generation aphid resistance is on the way via a Rag gene called Sparta.

Developed by Michigan State University, the trait is tougher because it carries two recessive genes. That’s important because the more genes that make up the resistance, the more hoops the insect has to jump through. Gerard’s company holds the license agreement to distribute the Sparta trait to seed companies.

"We know the trait works and delivers the best resistance available," Gerard says. "The next step is to get it yielding at acceptable levels." He says the trait is being broadly licensed and clients are stacking Sparta with the Rag1 resistance.

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