From better weed resistance, bug defenses and stronger disease control to traits for heart-healthy oil, biofuels and yields out the wazoo, future soybean lines should keep growers smiling as much as today's new plateau of prices.

Soybean breeders and others from seed companies see a horizon that yields better varieties all the way around. So does David Wright, at the North Central Soybean Research Program. He says resistance to Phytophthora root rot through the introduction of a new gene, improved beans for heart-healthy oil, better weed resistance and higher yields should benefit growers.

Molecular markers continue to make seed research more efficient. Before, it could take researchers 10 years or more to generate a single seed line. With markers, researchers identify genes of importance that are involved in resistance to disease and insects and specialty traits much quicker.

“The impact on soybean producers is higher-quality varieties with high yield stability,” says Wright. “Plant breeders using molecular tools will be able to deliver soybeans with effective resistance to multiple diseases and insects.”

Daria Schmidt, research director, soybean technologies, Pioneer Crop Genetics research and development (R&D), says Pioneer's marker technology has expanded trait markers available to breeders, including seven more in the areas of modified oil, yield and disease and insect markers.

Bob Buehler, leader of Monsanto's global soybean breeding program, says that in 2008, markers are helping Monsanto breeders improve the overall soybean agronomic package. “Through molecular-assisted breeding, we can identify specific genes associated with higher yields and incorporate those genetic characteristics more efficiently,” he says.

YIELDS GALORE

Markers are helping provide yield increases by up to 12% from Pioneer's new Accelerated Yield Technology, says Schmidt.

Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley says a 7-11% yield advantage is apparent in the company's anticipated Roundup RReady2Yield varieties, set for launch in 2009. “This next generation of Roundup Ready soybeans will serve as the platform for all future soybean traits,” he says.

WEED CONTROL

Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology is apparent in at least 90% of all U.S. soybeans. But with marestail, waterhemp and other weeds showing resistance to glyphosate, growers are desperate to see new chemistry to counter the glyphosate shortfall.

Monsanto has been among those suggesting that a separate herbicide mode of action is needed for some areas. It's developing dicamba-tolerant soybeans.

“Dicamba-tolerant soybeans use two distinct and complimentary approaches to control weeds, which will expand weed-control options by use of glyphosate or dicamba, or combinations of both herbicides,” says Fraley, adding that tolerance has been verified at three times the label rate for dicamba, in both pre- and postemergence.

Wright says this stacking of different modes of action will allow growers to manage any weed populations that have begun to shift toward glyphosate resistance.

Schmidt says Pioneer has several avenues of research for providing additional modes of action for soybeans, including the Optimum GAT trait program, with resistance to both glyphosate and ALS herbicides. Pioneer expects to have soybeans with the Optimum GAT trait on the market by 2009, pending regulatory and registration approvals.

Pioneer is also developing transgenic solutions for additional mode-of-action options internally and in partnerships with others to address upcoming needs of growers in controlling weeds, she says.

ASIAN RUST AND OTHER DISEASES

“The first varieties with rust resistance should be available within five years,” says Wright. “The initial rust resistance will not be immunity to the pathogen, however, but rather genetic, non-biotech tolerance that slows the progression of the disease.”

Schmidt says Pioneer is on a timeline for introduction of soybeans with a tolerance gene for Asian rust “as early as 2010.”

Pioneer has several soybean varieties with Phytophthora root rot resistance. “More than 90% of our product offerings have at least Phytophthora root rot or soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistance,” says Schmidt.

INSECT RESISTANCE

Wright says universities are incorporating at least three new sources of SCN genetic resistance into a diverse set of genetics.

“These new sources are dissimilar to PI88788 — the source of resistance in about 98% of our soybean lines currently labeled as SCN resistant — and CystX,” he says. “Initial research has proven that the genes are effective against many SCN races. The challenge is to incorporate the genes into high-yielding germplasm with solid agronomic traits.”

Wright says varieties with new SCN resistance are likely 10 years away. Schmidt says Pioneer's DNA diagnostics for several sources (such as PI88788, Peking and PI437654) are part of its program of finding race-independent transgenic solutions to SCN.

Fraley says Monsanto has SCN-resistance research in its pipeline. Among the agri-giant's largest insect-related projects is one involving the non-U.S. market, notably Brazil and Argentina, where insect pressure is a significant issue in soybean production.

“This new solution will provide the first ever in-the-seed insect protection for soybeans,” says Fraley, noting they are targeted to be introduced as a stack with Roundup RReady2Yield soybeans.

Wright says scientists have developed soybeans with resistance to the bean leaf beetle, noting that the products were shelved due to difficulties in obtaining international regulatory approvals. These products will likely be released soon, as companies and producers become more comfortable with channeling unapproved products for use in biofuels. He adds that yield stability in Bt soybeans is still five to eight years away.

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

Variation for response to drought exists in the soybean species, “but finding it and breeding for it along with yield can be an added challenge,” says Pioneer's Schmidt. “We regularly screen putative sources and are working these genetics into our breeding programs.”

Monsanto has rolled its research on water utilization for soybeans under the higher-yielding soybeans umbrella. “This reflects our belief that a trait that delivers water-use-efficiency benefits on all acres is actually a broad-acre yield trait,” says Fraley.

HEALTHIER OIL

Among those in the zero- or low-trans-fat trend lines is Vistive low-linolenic soybeans from Monsanto, used by more than 100 companies in their cooking oil. They contain less than 3% linolenic acid, compared to 8% for traditional soybeans, resulting in a more stable soybean oil and less need for hydrogenation.

Building on the success of Vistive low-lin, Fraley says Monsanto has a variety of soybeans in the pipeline designed to deliver next-generation vegetable oils that will improve shelf life, lower saturated fat and increase Omega 3 fatty acids in diets.

Pioneer continues developing and releasing low-lin varieties that combine fast-track cycling, molecular marker technology and rapid fatty acid analysis to deliver yield protection and the oil profile needed by the marketplace, says Schmidt.

Additionally, Pioneer is near approval for high-oleic soybeans, stable oil for both enhanced food and industrial use. Pending regulatory approvals, the high-oleic trait will be in the marketplace as early as next year.

Many other companies will offer new soybeans lines to meet the demand of growers eager to stay on top of their game, too. David Thompson, Stine Seed's director of marketing outside Des Moines, IA, says, “There will be some exciting things in the soybean seed market in the next five years. There is a lot of potential that is still untapped in soybeans. We are trying to minimize stress that can hurt yields.”

Stine will introduce Liberty Link soybean varieties for 2009 planting as another mode of action in fighting weeds. Low-lin beans from Stine are on the market today and more will be seed, along with high oleic varieties in the pipeline.

Other special protein needs will be addressed to meet new soybean markets, says Thompson. “Yield is first and foremost in our minds,” he says. “We want to be in the position to offer farmers a product to fit the specialty markets that yield as well.”

Andy Moore, a field agronomist with United Agri Products (UAP) in Greenwood, MS, says the national company's future beans will also include the Roundup Ready 2 traits, as well as the Optimum GAT. He points out that a majority of smaller, regional seed companies license their source of traits from major seed companies. UAP has several suppliers from which it obtains seed trait sources.

Wright says growers will see rapid yield increases in the next decade, even in five to eight years. “Seed providers are putting more emphasis on soybeans as a primary crop rather than a rotational crop,” he says.

Wright points out that the current shortage of soybean seed in some areas results from the additional acres intended for soybeans, as well as problems in seed production. “Germination was below normal,” he says, “which put more pressure on supplies at the same time farmers were in the midst of a battle to get the highest quality seed available.”

For more on the future of soybean and other planting seed technology, go to www.ncsrp.com/.