March 28, 2015

SDSU Working on Drought Tolerant Soybeans

According to the National Center for Soybean Technology, drought is the greatest threat to profitability when growing soybeans.  Work underway at South Dakota State University may change that.

Assistant professor Jai Rohila of the biology and microbiology department is uncovering the molecular mechanisms that lead to drought and heat tolerance. This will help breeders develop soybean varieties that can survive heat and drought.

To do this, he is working with University of Minnesota soybean breeder Jim Orf, who provided Rohila with two varieties of soybeans, one that has greater tolerance to hot, dry conditions, and another that is susceptible. The project, which began in 2010, is supported by the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

By comparing the two soybean varieties, Rohila and graduate student Aayudh Das hope to identify the key genes that lead to increased tolerance. Genes regulate the expression of proteins and chemical signaling pathways that determine the plant’s response to heat and lack of water.

Rohila says, “Drought and heat are very complicated.  I am going to build a bridge between the physiology and the gene discovery.  We study not one gene at a time, but many.  With a global approach, we can nail down many molecular players at a single time.”

Das has found 90 proteins that are differentially expressed during drought and heat conditions in the tolerant variety. These proteins then interact with enzymes that affect the plant’s metabolism including its ability to produce carbohydrates, lipids and various metabolites including amino acids.

A drought-stressed soybean plant, for instance, closes its pores or stomata to prevent water from escaping; however, this action has a cost—it limits the plant’s ability to take in carbon dioxide and ultimately to make the carbohydrates it needs.

In comparing enzyme levels in the two soybean varieties, Das identified two enzymes which are up regulated significantly in the variety that performs better under heat stress.

Though the researchers have more work to do, Das says that the next step will be to see if overexpressing these enzymes can further protect the soybean plant.

South Dakota State University

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Voluntary GMO Food Labeling Legislation Hits House Floor

Representatives Mike Pompeo of Kansas and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina have introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act – which would create a national, science-based standard for the safety and labeling of food products containing genetically modified ingredients. The legislation is supported by a number of ag organizations – including the National Corn Growers Association and American Feed Industry Association. National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner says this legislation is vital to giving farmers and consumers the certainty they deserve when it comes to labeling of food containing GMO ingredients – and at the same time would preserve choices in the marketplace for both groups. Conner says growers and farmer co-ops across the country have embraced biotechnology as a way to increase yields in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. He says this bill represents an important step in cutting through the misinformation about GMOs and focuses on the science attesting to their safety and the benefits these crops provide.

The American Soybean Association supports the bill – which ASA President Wade Cowan says would end confusion for consumers over which food products do not contain biotech ingredients. Cowan says establishing a national standard for non-GMO labels ensures all of the products without GMOs will have one simple, easy-to-understand label on them – and the consumer gets the information he or she is looking for. He says the bill also helps provide consumers with greater clarity by replacing state laws and regulations that can be at odds with one another with a clear national standard.

The American Farm Bureau Federation also applauds the introduction of this legislation – saying state-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods – even though there is no credible evidence linking a food safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods. Creating a national labeling standard – according to AFBF President Bob Stallman – will give consumers the information they need while avoiding unnecessary confusion and added costs of a patchwork of state laws.

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Ag Industry Continues To Contemplate Legal Issues With Drone Use

Drones are becoming more common and their use in agriculture is expected to increase. But with that increased use – there are increased legal issues to be sorted out. One of the first issues is who owns the airspace over your farm? Ohio State University Associate Professor Peggy Kirk-Hall says that’s not very clear and has been dictated by court made law

Peggy Kirk Hall

Many farmers are concerned about animal rights groups or other groups flying over the farm to try and get unauthorized videos. Kirk-Hall says recent ag gag or other civil privacy laws may be used to prevent unauthorized videos – but each state has different rules. One rule that is nationwide – according to Kirk-Hall – it is a crime to shoot down a drone…tape

Peggy Kirk Hall 2

Some operators currently assume that drones right now fall under the personal use aircraft below 400 feet rules, but the FAA says that assumption is incorrect.  However, the FAA does expect to propose rules for drones weighing less than 55 pounds later this year.  Its unlikely they will be finalized until 2016.

A recent statement from the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems predicts that eventually 80% of the drone market will be for agricultural uses.

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