You've heard seed companies tout a quantum yield leap for soybeans during the next two decades. You've probably also heard third-party observers doubt it.
Any way you look at it, soybean breeding efforts are supercharged. Genetic traits inserted into varieties could help farmers get a better handle on everything from diseases to drought tolerance.
Monsanto Company researchers are committed to doubling 2000 yields by 2030. National soybean yield in 2000 was 37 bu. per acre.
In 2008, it hit 42 bu. "Our goal is a U.S. average yield of 80 bu. by 2030,” says Roy Fuchs, Monsanto's global tech soybean lead.
He expects yields in the Midwest to hit 100 bu. per acre. Yields on marginal soil could reach 50 bu.
John Soper, Pioneer Hi-Bred's senior research director for soybean product development, says new gene combinations will help boost yield potential.
"We're looking at doubling the rate of gain from the traditional 1% a year to at least 2% a year. That will make a big difference,” Soper says.
Debate on Yield. At Syngenta, Gene Kassmeyer, head of the soybean product line, thinks soybean yields will increase in the next two decades but probably not double.
"I don't have any question that we will raise yield. The question is how much. I'm not quite so bold as to predict doubling yield. I do think we can increase the trendline 10 bu. in 10 years or so,” Kassmeyer says.
Some university researchers also question whether soybean yields can double in two decades.
"I don't see that kind of yield happening,” says Seth Naeve, Univer-sity of Minnesota Extension soybean agronomist. "There is no history that says the biotech revolution will change how we do business.”
Naeve does hope researchers will find ways, such as drought resistance, to boost yield. He believes most traits developed will be for specific environments.
"Very few genes will work for everything and most probably will come with some sort of penalty,” Naeve says.
Gene Technology. Nearly all agree there is untapped potential in soybeans. Soybean varieties developed for the U.S. came from a narrow gene pool. Wild soybeans provide a good source for new traits, says Xingyou Gu, a South Dakota State University plant science professor.
Gu is looking at dozens of wild soybean lines from China, trying to pull out genes that have natural disease resistance or drought tolerance as well as a yield boost.
"We use gene markers to fish for the genetics of exotic lines to find a handful with value,” Soper says.
"We're seeing a combination of things work, from molecular markers to breeding, which we could only dream of 15 years ago,” Kassmeyer adds. "The dividends could double genetic yield gain each year. We are also getting good results in disease and pest control.”
Top Producer, January 2010