The United Soybean Board (USB) recently committed an unprecedented $3.5 million for research to identify and evaluate soybean genes that increase yields. The three-year project will be conducted by land-grant-university researchers throughout the soybean-growing region of the United States, including researchers at the National Soybean Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois and researchers at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
The ultimate goal is to increase soybeans’ national yield average from the current 43.6 bushels per acre (bu/a) to 59.5 bu/a by 2030. This would not only increase the profit potential of U.S. soybean farmers, but also help meet increasing global demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel. And all of the research would remain in the public domain.
“This high-impact project focused on yield is long overdue, and Illinois soybean farmers are excited to have our state involved,” says Teutopolis soybean farmer David Hartke, a USB farmer-director and member of the checkoff’s Production Research program. “Soybean yields need to increase to get as close to corn as possible in order to prevent losing acres to corn and to ensure U.S. soybean farmers continue to meet the increasing global demand for soy.”
USB farmer-leaders serving in the checkoff’s Production Research program recently met with soybean researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Several prominent researchers provided updates on a wide variety of research funded by both the national soybean checkoff and the Illinois Soybean Association. They provided overviews on aphid research, addressing the soybean meal needs of animal agriculture, soybean marketing, the impact of technology on productivity and research specifically targeting genes that could increase U.S. soybean yields.
Funding significant soybean research isn’t new to the checkoff. In 2009, researchers completed sequencing the soybean genome. Since that time, they have developed more than 50,000 markers distributed over all the soybean chromosomes, which have enabled soybean breeders to identify the location of key genes, making incorporating those genes in new U.S. soybean varieties quicker than in the past.
“It’s important that the checkoff help spearhead this type of research,” says Hartke. “We believe access to key yield genes should remain in the public domain. This helps ensure wider availability of the genes to researchers and plant breeders.”
Pending full approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, researchers involved in the task of identifying and evaluating yield genes will begin work this fall.