Soybeans that Resist Rust
Varietal resistance has been the holy grail for soybean rust control since the disease began infiltrating fields. Now varieties with resistance to the disease may be around the corner.
Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. has identified and incorporated new proprietary molecular markers that are aimed at delivering soybean seed with resistance to soybean rust, soybean aphids and frogeye leaf spot.
Glen Hartman, USDA–Agricultural Research Service research scientist based in Champaign, Ill., is not surprised to see these breakthroughs. "The companies have been working on developing molecular markers for rust resistance since 2001 when it [rust] first hit Brazil,” Hartman says.
To date, properly applied fungicides have been the grower's only defense against Asian soybean rust. Pioneer plans to commercialize soybean varieties containing multiple sources of resistance by 2012 in Brazil and 2013 in the U.S.
Frogeye leaf spot resistant varieties and commercial varieties with resistance to aphids are expected by 2011.
Molecular markers work like genetic road signs—showing scientists where to look on DNA for genes related to a specific trait. Once molecular markers are identified, researchers can use DNA analysis early in product development to screen for the presence of these specific traits. The ability to screen complements field testing and yields more success in research programs.
"I would sure hate to be a fertilizer dealer this year,” says AgriGold Hybrids agronomy manager Mike Kavanaugh.
He recently surveyed independent fertilizer brokers across the Midwest to get an idea of the upper end of 2009 fertility costs. Can you pencil anhydrous and DAP (18-46-0) at $1,300 per ton?
Urea came in at $950 per ton and 28% at $500 per ton. Getting 10-34-0 is nearly impossible, but this poll prices it at $1,500 per ton. Potash could reach $1,000 per ton.
"These are high water marks, and the survey is speculation,” Kavanaugh says. "However, we think it could be possible to see these figures.” The agronomist says NPK to feed a 180-bu. corn crop in 2002 cost around $52 per acre. Based on these 2009 guesstimates, you'll pay $280 per acre, he notes.
The Race to Double Yields
Agriculture biotechnology leader Monsanto Company thinks it can. In an early June announcement, which Farm Journal was specifically invited to attend, the St. Louis-based firm detailed a three-point commitment to develop better seeds, conserve resources and help improve farmers' lives.
Monsanto is pledging to develop seeds that will double corn, soybean and cotton yields by 2030 (compared with 2000 yields) and require 30% less water, land and energy to grow. The "Sustainable Yield Initiative,” as it is internally called, includes steps to share expertise and make improved genetics available to resource-poor farmers in other parts of the world.
"We [Monsanto] are all about yield and how to produce more,” says Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant. "This initiative is about raising more stuff on the same acres while using less [inputs].”
Although short on specifics of how they intend to reach the lofty yield goals, Grant says Monsanto's research pipeline already includes new corn, soybean and cotton products intended to result in more production per unit of land and reduced use of energy, fertilizer and water per unit produced.
Drought-tolerant corn is scheduled to be released by 2012. Further down the road, Grant says farmers can expect crops that will yield with less nitrogen. Increasing domestic yields will likely come through new technology, but he notes that many parts of the world could see yield boosts just by embracing hybrid technology.
As part of the announcement, Monsanto is establishing a $10 million grant designed to accelerate breakthroughs in the breeding of wheat and rice. "You only have to look at the yield curves on these orphan crops to see they need help,” Grant says.