Wanted: traditional beans

The soybean tribe has spoken: Focus soybean breeding research on conventional varieties.

That’s what University of Minnesota soybean breeder Jim Orf was told when he surveyed the state’s soybean growers at recent winter meetings. And that was an affirmation of what Orf has been doing with his research at the U-M for the past 15 years.

“We’re working on traditional varieties that farmers take to the elevator or the crushing plant to get oil and meal,” he says. “We’re also working on food grade or special purpose soybeans that are used in tofu, miso, soy sauce, soybean sprouts and black soybeans for tea.”

In each variety, Orf says, overall breeding efforts focus on improving yields, and disease and insect resistance. Then, depending on where soybeans are grown, Orf says that research is tailored for that region. For example, for growers in northwestern and western Minnesota with high pH fields, scientists are developing varieties that are tolerant to iron chlorosis. Northern growers don’t have to worry about soybean cyst nematode yet. However, the rest of the state’s growers do, and Orf says that they are developing crosses so resistance is in most of the major materials. Genetic resistance to phytopthora, white mold, brown stem rot and sudden death syndrome are other characteristics that breeders are looking for when selecting materials.

Orf also is working to develop soybeans in maturity groups 00, I and early II that would cover the north-central/central, central/south-central and bottom tier counties of Minnesota, respectively.

Goodbye, aphids

Through the breeding program, Orf expects to see soybeans on the market in two to three years with aphid resistance.

“We have some materials coming along in both general-purposed and food grade soybeans,” he says. “That will reduce or eliminate the need to spray for aphids.”

U-M entomologists have tried working with natural predators to reduce and eliminate soybean aphids for a few years. However, imported wasps from China have not survived state winters. Any future predatory species that researchers identify must have governmental approval before being brought into the U.S. and released.

When it comes to components, Orf says they are working toward a balance sought by the American Soybean Association: conventional varieties with a minimum protein content of 35% and oil content around 19%, on a 13% moisture basis. Those parameters work best for the export market.

“Content varies year to year. In Minnesota, our average protein is 34.6%, and oil is 18.4% to 18.6%, so we’re trying to move up those averages,” he says.

In the food grade area, soybean protein and oil content vary depending on end-product use. For example, tofu is made from beans with 38% to 39% protein. Miso and soy sauce are made from the average protein content of 35%. And for the small natto bean, lower oil is best.

Orf keeps an eye out for other ways to improve soybeans specifically for Minnesota growers.

“I want to make sure our growers have access to the newest varieties as soon as possible — especially for north and north-central Minnesota — so we can compete with growers in the Midwest and the world,” says Orf.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of THE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.