Soybean yields in North America have been stalled over the past 20 years as pests like aphids and Soybean Cyst Nematodes take hold. When farmers plant certified seed it allows seed companies to put profits back into research and development. Companies like Syngenta, Monsanto and Dupont are spending millions of dollars a day in research and development. With these investments by the seed industry we may finally see the soybean yield trends going in the same positive direction as the corn yield trend has.
For many years breeders have used both northern and southern hemisphere growing seasons to get 2 crops a year. This has cut the ten year cycle from the first cross to the introduction of a new commercial variety down to 5 years. DNA mapping and other technological razzle dazzle has allowed breeders to insert traits into the best part of the soybeans genetics to improve yield.
This spring saw the commercial introduction of long season ”Roundup Ready 2 Yield” varieties that growers are hoping will give them more bushels in the bin. This new yield trait is being used by all soybean seed companies except DeDell and Pioneer. This innovation is supposed to deliver yield increases of 7-11 percent. The promoters use the illustration of this technology delivering 5 extra beans per plant which on two hundred thousand plants per acre would give producers an extra 500 bushels on a 100 acre field.
Pioneer is taking a different direction and is developing its own 2nd generation herbicide resistance soybeans. Their system is called “Optimum GAT”. They have also released a new “y” series lineup of superior yielding varieties. Pioneer developed the “y” series using traditional breeding and hi-tech selection methods. Whether this introduction will allow Pioneer breathing room until Optimum GAT soybeans are commercially available remains to be seen.
There are other advances for soybeans in the research pipeline. Some are quality traits such as soybeans which will have heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Syngenta seeds (which many of you would know as NK) is working on Callisto herbicide tolerant beans to address the problem of glyphosate resistant weeds. Other companies are planning to use Liberty Link soybeans. Dicamba herbicide resistance is another option which will be soon be available.
So does this mean you should abandon a favourite Round up Ready variety and jump to “Roundup ready 2 yield” soybeans? There are many factors which influence yield. Last year’s launch of soybean inoculants with nodulation triggering technology yielded on average an extra 2 bushels per acre. Seed treatment advances such as Cruiser Maxx have also added bushels per acre. Other management factors such as seedbed preparation, planting date and depth add to yield as well. This year soils that were fed enough potash had higher yields and less aphid damage than those that were deficient. Natural factors such as rainfall and temperature can often have much more impact than genetics on final yield.
There are still compelling economic reasons to grow conventional varieties. Ironically,we can thank Biotech for creating a lucrative niche market for non genetically modified beans. Before the introduction of Biotechnology, food grade soybean premiums were only a few cents per bushel. This year popular Identity Preserved varieties such as S03W4’s commanded a premium of up to $3 per bushel. Growers will have to sharpen their pencils when considering which variety to grow. Soybean farmers will have lots to talk about when the seed sales reps start to call. Invite them in; you’ll both learn something.