In his last appearance at the Northern county plot tour as Minnesota’s soybean breeder, Dr. Jim Orf used his time to highlight new and exciting opportunities for Minnesota farmers in soybean breeding and the many different uses for soybeans.
“Since you as farmers are paid based on the bushels you bring to market, yield is a large part of what we look at when making variety selection,” Orf said. “But we also pay a lot of attention to maturity to make sure that there are varieties available that will mature in the frost-free season for farmers across the state.”
Orf said that for Minnesota, maturity has always been important because the climate is changing. The seasons in Minnesota have allowed soybeans to become a large part of the crop rotation all the way through northern Minnesota. He added that even the last few years, major seed companies have started to invest seriously in northern Minnesota, even Canada, working on earlier maturities for their soybean varieties.
Alongside variety selection for yield, Orf said he and other breeders are carefully looking at selection to help grower’s fight problems like Iron Deficiency Chlorosis, root rot, aphids and Soybean Cyst Nematode. More recently, he has also been involved in breeding soybeans to produce a larger percentage of oleic acid, which can help produce a soybean oil with a higher percentage of the much sought-after oleic acid. The acid is known for its healthy fatty acid properties. These soybeans are being called high oleic soybeans in the marketplace.
“The new high oleic soybean oil will not have trans fats, which is a huge advantage,” Orf said. “The ways current soybean oil is currently manufactured through the chemical process, trans fats enter the oil. So this is a great new variety that will allow soybean growers to expand their market use of soybean oil.”
In the public sector, Orf said breeders have been working on breeding natural variants that are in the soybean germplasm collection, via what he calls natural occurring mutant types, in order to get high oleic soybeans through conventional breeding. He compares this to the Pioneer and Monsanto varieties that came about through genetic modification and are waiting for deregulation and acceptance from other countries, namely China. Orf points out the importance of China in this process since one in every four rows of soybeans from Minnesota goes to China.
To wrap up his time at just about every plot event location, Orf introduced Minnesota’s new soybean breeder Dr. Aaron Lorenz and his research efforts in variety selection for yield and pest management, specifically for aphid pressure.
“We’d like to continue seeing that line of yield increase rise for time to come,” Orf said. “That is what our breeding program will continue to work on into the future. We’d also like to see the pace of yield increase in soybeans quicken. Dr. Lorenz will be a leader in this research for years to come.”
Lorenz spoke on the genes in the soybean germplasm collection that give a decent resistance to soybean aphids, but not to all of them. To have a more durable resistance to soybean aphid, soybean breeders would really like to put all three RAG genes into one soybean variety (stack them) to keep populations from shifting really quickly and the genes will no longer be available.
To end their time in front of farmers, Orf and Lorenz gave farmers a quick fact to consider.
“Can anyone give me a guess on what percentage of their yield increase depends on soybean variety breeding versus agronomic choices and other factors,” Lorenz asked. “Well, about two-thirds of the yield increase you as farmers see is due to newer varieties developed by breeding soybeans. And we are committed to continue increasing that and finding tools.”
Orf will be retiring at the end of this year and Lorenz will be taking his place as Minnesota’s key soybean breeder. Lorenz studied under Orf while attending the University of Minnesota
The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council was involved in the process to select the new soybean breeder.