Research funded by the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff has identified two drought-tolerant soybean traits that perform well in U.S. soybean varieties under moderate drought and normal conditions.

According to Larry Purcell, a professor and soybean researcher at the University of Arkansas, previous research into drought-tolerant plants has predominantly produced the same result: drought-tolerant plants grow better than most plants during drought conditions, but they grow poorly under optimal growing conditions.

“For the two traits with which we have worked, we have sidestepped this problem,” Purcell says. “This is a significant project that has produced many important discoveries for finding soybeans with agronomic advantages under moderate drought conditions.”

Purcell says one of the traits allows the soybean plant to continue to accumulate nitrogen during moderate drought conditions while the other allows the plant to conserve water before the onset of a drought, helping slow wilting when the weather turns dry. Packaging these two traits in the same variety could be one of the more significant advances in drought-tolerant soybean research.

According to Ken Bartlett, a checkoff farmer-leader from La Grange, NC, who has experienced low yields due to drought conditions for the past three years, these traits represent a hopeful development for soybean farmers in his region.

“We have very light, sandy soil here on the southern East Coast,” says Bartlett, a member of the USB production research program. “We will benefit from this research every year, even in the presence of good rainfall, because the water won’t stand in this soil. This research will bring huge benefits to southeastern soybean farmers.”

Public and private breeders now have these two traits available to them to incorporate into their varieties. Purcell says he has already received interest from breeders to begin doing so.

The checkoff will continue to support this project as the team continues to look for the optimal combination of traits for new U.S. soybean varieties that perform even better during drought conditions. Purcell says this research would not have been possible without a long-term commitment from the soybean checkoff.

“USB has been willing to provide long-term support, which has been very important as we’ve continued to build on past successes,” Purcell says. “Were it not for soybean checkoff funding, this research would have never happened,” Bartlett adds. “The investment of all U.S. soybean farmers made this possible.”