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Corn+Soybean Digest

Edging Out King Corn

In Nebraska, where year-in, year-out corn is king, soybeans are rapidly gaining ground. Greg Anderson, a soybean farmer from Newman Grove, NE, has grown soybeans on soybeans for 15 years straight on some fields.

“We've seen Nebraska soybean production double in the last 10 years to 5 million acres this year,” says Anderson. “Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota are the new Soybean Belt. We can, of course, achieve better yields and quality if we're not battling insects and disease.”

Anderson, who's been involved in both the Nebraska Soybean Board (NSB) and the United Soybean Board (USB) for several years, says there are lots of advantages to growing soybeans.

While growing continuous soybeans is not for everyone, Anderson contends it works for him in a part of the state where the rolling hills make no-till an important part of his farming toolbox. “In all the years I've grown soybeans, I only wish I had grown some corn one year,” he says. “Overall, it's worked well. I've been able to get rid of excess equipment, have a wider planting window, harvest when the weather's nice and don't have drying expenses.”

He adds, “We can net more from soybeans than from flax or oats, and it's a resilient crop. It does well in our area. If we can have some disease resistance incorporated into soybean plants, similar to what's been done in corn, we could increase yields, reduce the number of chemicals we spray and produce higher quality soybeans. That's why research is so vital.”

Anderson and other Nebraska farmers and researchers are working together to develop higher-yielding, disease-resistant soybean varieties without sacrificing quality.

“It's vitally important that we link compositional quality with yield to provide our buyers with a better bean than the competition can provide,” Anderson says. “If we can't provide that, our buyers will go elsewhere.”

NSB and USB have teamed up to create better soybean varieties for Nebraska farmers. And through that coordinated effort, the research conducted in Nebraska will filter to farmers across the U.S.

It's been the job of Loren Giesler, University of Nebraska plant pathologist, to determine which disease-resistant traits Nebraska researchers should incorporate into their breeding programs. “We've discovered that some soybean diseases, such as bean pod mottle virus (BPMV), are common in Nebraska fields. But no commercial varieties with resistance to this disease exist,” Giesler says.

Through a checkoff-funded soybean breeding project managed by University of Nebraska soybean breeder George Graef, scientists hope to develop varieties with high compositional quality and resistance to common Nebraska diseases, including phytophthora root rot and soybean cyst nematode.

Graef and his team of researchers have made significant strides in breeding for increases in protein content in soybeans. “We now have lines with more than 60% protein in the seed on a dry-matter basis. That's more than a 50% increase over average soybean varieties that are 39-40% protein,” says Graef. “Now we need to incorporate disease-resistance traits and other yield contributors into these breeding lines.”

He adds that the seed coat mottling caused by soybean viruses especially impacts the food-grade market, so a breeding program has been established just for food-grade soybeans and seed producers. However, the process for bringing improved varieties to the market takes time. Commercializing a new disease-resistant soybean variety could take six or seven years.

It's not clear how severely BPMV affects farmers' bottom lines. Previous research has estimated yield loss at anywhere from 3% to 52%, but researchers are working to determine a more true assessment of yield impact.

Research is being conducted in many states, but Nebraska researchers stress that this joint effort focuses on the problems producers are having, identifying what's causing those problems and using research to address them.

And why is this research important to a traditional corn-growing state like Nebraska? Even with increased competition from South America, Anderson's excited about the potential markets for soybeans — especially biodiesel. But he emphasizes the importance of U.S. soybean farmers raising the bar, continuing research and improving quality. He thinks the soybean's day has come — even in Nebraska.

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