Genetic improvement is key to greater soybean yields
This research also showed that when compared to old varieties, plants in the new varieties are shorter in height, mature later, lodge less, and have seeds with less protein and greater oil concentration.
“The new varieties tend to mature later within these maturity groups, which is something that theoretically shouldn’t happen because we classify these varieties based on when they mature. So theoretically MG II varieties should mature at the same time now as one back in the 1970s, but this is not the case,” Diers said. “Probably over time, people have been selecting varieties that are a little bit later and later, and these changes have accumulated. In some ways, it’s not a bad thing, because farmers are planting earlier than they did back in the 1970s so they actually need varieties that will mature later than back then. That’s not a bad thing.”
Other traits reported as changed over time included earlier flowering time, which has resulted in an expanded reproductive period.
“We didn’t know that this reproductive period was expanding, and we are now asking whether breeding for an even longer reproductive period could further increase yields. Other studies have looked at the interaction of planting date by year of release and have shown new varieties can utilize earlier planting dates better than old varieties,” Diers said.
With soybean being a leading source of protein and oil for human food, animal feed, and other products, global rates of yield increases for the crop will need to keep up with demand in the future.
“By understanding how we’ve made these changes to date, it can help us understand how we can further improve yields and increase the rate of gain,” Diers said.
Diers plans to study ways to increase the rate of genetic gains using more modern breeding techniques.
“Most of the yield increases are the result of breeders selecting better combinations of genes that can allow plants to take sunlight and produce more seed from that sunlight. We don’t know what genes breeders are selecting that are resulting in these increases, for example, where in that pathway from the sunlight hitting the canopy to producing seed where this occurs. Breeders, by selecting new varieties that have more yield, are able to make this progress without really understanding the mechanism,” Diers said.
The study, “Genetic Improvement of US Soybean in Maturity Groups II, III, and IV,” was recently published in the Journal of Crop Science and can be accessed online here.
Co-authors of the study include Keith Rincker, Randall Nelson, James Specht, David Sleper, Troy Cary, Silvia R. Cianzio, Shaun Casteel, Shawn Conley, Pengyin Chen, Vince Davis, Carolyn Fox, George Graef, Chad Godsey, David Holshouser, Guo-Liang Jiang, Stella K. Kantartzi, William Kenworthy, Chad Lee, Rouf Mian, Leah McHale, Seth Naeve, James Orf, Vaino Poysa, William Schapaugh, Grover Shannon, Robert Uniatowski, Dechun Wang, and Brian Diers
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