Resistant Weeds and Geography Drive Soybean Development
Glyphosate resistance in weeds is driving the development of a number of new traits for soybeans that will offer soybean growers expanded options for weed and pest control.
After relying on the glyphosate-based trait and herbicide programs for the past 15 years or so, soybean production is set to become more complex, says Ross Weikel, head of soybeans for North America at Syngenta. “In soybeans we’ve been primarily using one trait for many years, so soybean [production] is going to get a lot more complicated because not every seed from every company is going to have the same tolerance to the herbicide,” he says.
“One of the big things coming in soybeans is a number of new herbicide traits,” says Tim Welbanks of Maizex Seeds Inc. “Growers are going to have an option to pick between probably three new herbicide traits. There’s the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend trait from Monsanto, the Enlist E3 system from Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta is going to have their MGI herbicide-tolerant SYHT0H2 soybean products, so that’s going to be exciting.”
Soybeans Moving North
Another big driver of new soybean hybrids is geography. Soybeans are being grown a lot farther west and north than they have ever been, which is prompting companies to develop earlier-maturing and drought-tolerant varieties for these geographies.
“We are making a significant effort to expand the range of soybeans,” says André Trépanier, DuPont Pioneer’s senior soybeans marketing manager. The company is expanding the availability of its T Series soybean varieties, which are targeted to meet specific grower needs and match to local environments.
“Growers are asking for soybeans that will maximize yield in conditions and challenges specific to their fields,” says Trépanier. “For example, available T Series soybean varieties for Iowa growers’ provide above-average tolerance against sudden death syndrome as well as protection against white mold where needed. In Nebraska, the Dakotas and into Canada, available varieties provide growers protection against iron chlorosis and soybean cyst nematode.”
SCN continues to cause billions of dollars of damage in growers fields every year, and Syngenta has just completed trials of a new seed treatment, Clariva Complete Beans, which combines a nematicide, fungicide and insecticide and an active ingredient, Pasteuria nishizawae, to combat SCN. “This product uses a parasite that’s been known to kill SCN. Recently, we have developed the technology to make Clariva Complete Beans a commercial product . It’s really exciting because there aren’t any other tools out there other than one native trait, which isn’t working as well as it used to,” says Weikel. The product is already available to growers in the American Midwest for planting in 2014.
Subject to Approval
A limiting factor for when all of these new traits and technologies will come to market, however, is regulatory approval, a process that is increasingly causing some frustration in the industry. “We definitely have a major issue because of asynchronous regulatory patterns,” says Weikel. “The fact that China has such a different process continues to be a problem. The industry has seen issues on the regulatory side with getting corn products approvals in China and it’s a bigger deal in soybeans because China is the largest importer of soybeans in the world. All the seed companies and the agricultural producing countries are working to try and align regulatory processes.”
Traits and Technology
Monsanto has declared 2010 to 2020 the “Decade of the Bean,” and the company has second- and next-generation soybeans in the pipeline that will offer multiple modes of action for improved insect control, including cyst nematode and aphids, as well as a higher-yielding soybean hybrid. “We have a lot of traits that are going to be available in the next 10 years that are going to be extremely valuable to growers across the board,” says Tony White, product development manager of soybean systems at Monsanto. “It includes breeding traits, biotech traits, value-added traits and chemistry. Another component is improved agronomics generally in soybeans to help farmers increase yield.”
Technology is having as much influence in soybeans as it is in other crops. Point Pioneer’s soybean varieties are being developed using Accelerated Yield Technology, a set of molecular breeding technologies that allow researchers to scan and identify genes responsible for important traits and incorporate them into additional soybean lines. AYT has allowed Pioneer to register 225 soybean patents for varieties, transgenic and native traits, and breeding technologies.
New Opportunities for End-User Traits
A number of end-user traits for soybeans are also in the pipeline and Randy Wilken, president of family-owned independent seed company ProHarvest Seeds in Ashkum, Ill., believes that may offer some new opportunities in the industry and help persuade consumers doubtful about GM crops to see the benefits of the technology. “My understanding is we are pretty close to having some biotech products that would have end-user benefits—something that the consumer can see,” says Wilken. “Most of the things we have had to this point have been beneficial to the farmers, and maybe if we get some end-user benefits, that will help ease some of the concerns from consumers if they can see a benefit from it.”
DuPont Pioneer launched its Plenish high oleic soybeans under limited contracts in 2013. Plenish was developed using AYT technology and contains more than 75 percent oleic acid and 20 percent less saturated fat than commodity soybean oil. The high oleic acid content makes it more stable to give extended fry life and a longer shelf life for packaged foods, and also has other potential industry uses to produce sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based products.
Other value-added traits that offer human health benefits include Monsanto’s Vistive Gold, which will be part of its Ground Breakers program for 2014, that has combined breeding and biotechnology to produce a soybean oil that is low in mono-unsaturated fats similar to olive oil and canola oil. Its Sda omega-3 soybeans, also in development, are designed to produce oil with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to benefit heart health.
Because growers haven’t had as many options in soybeans as other crops in the past, making sure they are supported in the use of the new technologies coming available is as important as the products themselves. That increasingly means combining the technologies, traits and products of different companies to help growers achieve better yields in the long term. “It’s really about improving the whole system,” says White. “There are a lot of components that a grower deals with every year and it may not be just a simple variety selection or a single pest problem—it’s a multitude of problems. And so we need to consider all these things and use a systems approach. As an example, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend is part of a system and that’s going to be important as we get to commercial launch, because it’s not a standalone product—it’s implemented with other weed control strategies and that’s how growers are going to stay successful in the future.”
New Soybean Traits on the Horizon
From Syngenta: MGI (mesotrione, glufinosate and isoxaflutole) herbicide-tolerant SYHT0H2 soybean products, developed in collaboration with Bayer CropScience, which offer tolerance to Callisto, Halex, Balance, and Liberty herbicides and combine residual and post-emergence control and will be stacked with other traits including Roundup Ready 2 Yield.