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Biotech discovery will improve soybeans

Hi-Tech Farming: A new gene discovery in soybeans will help develop desirable traits faster.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

June 7, 2024

3 Min Read
Jianxin Ma, researcher at Purdue University, stands in front of soybean plots
SEARCH FOR HIDDEN TREASURE: Jianxin Ma isn’t Indiana Jones, but the Purdue soybean breeder does look for ancient treasure, of sorts — diverse genes in older, wild soybean lines.Tom J. Bechman

Early in his career at Purdue University, Jianxin Ma narrowly avoided a catastrophe in his research program. Wild soybeans, ancestors of modern varieties, looked so much like weeds that the research farm superintendent thought they were. The superintendent, now retired, reported that only fate kept him from mowing them off one afternoon, sure they were weeds in the plot.

Ma’s breeding program, making crosses to find useful traits for modern soybean lines, has already yielded traits that are improving today’s varieties. Now, he and Chance Clark, a graduate student, have uncovered a method that will help them domesticate desirable traits for soybeans much faster than they thought possible.

The pair discovered two long, noncoding RNA genes that share the same locus sitting side by side. Unlike most other genes, these genes control multiple traits.

“We can use gene-editing methods to modify genes using wild relatives of soybeans,” Ma says. “This will help us create new, more suitable varieties.”

New rootworm technology

Meristem Crop Performance reports that about 200,000 acres of corn were protected this year with Guard X — what the company calls the first-ever U.S. EPA-approved biological for corn rootworm delivered in-furrow at planting with the BioCapsule Technology seed fluency system. The company’s goal is for a bigger launch next year.

Instead of using GMO traits or insecticide, this product induces corn plant genes to produce a natural defense exudate from the roots. It confuses rootworm larvae, which move away from roots. The same biological activity also promotes root regrowth if feeding damage occurs. See meristemag.com.

Easier fertilizer access

A strategic partnership between Helm Crop Nutrition Americas and Sul4r-Plus means the calcium-sulfate fertilizer that Sul4r-Plus sells will be more available throughout the country. Helm operates over 20 terminals nationwide. Sul4r-Plus is adding a plant in southern Illinois for 2025, which will increase production volume by 300,000 tons. Visit helmcrop.com and sul4r-plus.com.

Seed treatment innovation

Look for registration for Syngenta’s Victrato seed treatment by U.S. EPA, hopefully for the 2025 growing season. To be registered for soybeans and cotton, Victrato will introduce targeted technology to stop nematodes and sudden death syndrome.

Dale Ireland, Syngenta technical lead, says Victrato protects against adults, juveniles and eggs from multiple nematode species, including soybean cyst, root knot, reniform, lance and lesion nematodes. 

It also will help defend against the pest that causes SDS, and can suppress early-season fungal diseases including frogeye leaf spot. It will feature a novel SDHI active ingredient, dubbed Tymirium technology.

Novel animal deterrent

If someone tells you they can now grow cotton where none was grown for five years due to deer damage, it grabs your attention. Helena Agri-Enterprises says Trico Pro was that effective in testing in 2023, and is at work again protecting soybeans, cotton and other crops in 2024.

Developers say this natural repellent can prevent damage and protect crops where damage occurred by allowing the crop to develop new growth.

Spokespersons say it is long-lasting after a single application, and comes in a convenient, liquid concentrate. For more details, go to helenaagri.com.

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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