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New traits coming to soybeans

Soybeans were first on the traits bandwagon when industry introduced glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in 1996.

"We live in a glyphosate-tolerant world," says Gene Kassmeyer, head of Syngenta's soybean product line. "Sales of non-glyphosate tolerant soybean varieties are less than two percent."

Corn quickly surpassed soybeans with traits resistant to glyphosate, European corn borer and corn rootworm. Now, traits are swinging back to soybeans' corner.

Kassmeyer recently visited with Agriculture Online about several soybean traits and new developments that are on deck in the next few years. They include:

  • Soybean aphids resistant varieties that are slated to be released in 2009.

Soybean cyst nematode resistance. Syngenta plans to launch a new source of SCN-resistant soybean in 2010.

New herbicide tolerances. Kassmeyer says Syngenta has a several new herbicide tolerances with a three to six year time horizon that will provide growers with new ways to control weeds.

Syngenta is not alone in developing new weed control technology. Pioneer Hi-Bred International and its parent company, DuPont, plans to launch its alternative glyphosate technology, Optimum GAT. in soybeans in 2009 and corn in 2010. BASF recently announced that it is aims to register BAS 800H, a corn and soybean herbicide with a new mode of action, in the United States by 2009 or 2010.

Syngenta plans to continue to bring varieties to market each year with improved resistance to all major soybean diseases, especially Sudden Death Syndrome. Other maladies include iron chlorosis, white mold, and phytophthora root rot. Syngenta also plans to launch a variety with Asian rust tolerance by 2012.

The industry is also focused on output traits aimed at consumers. Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Monsanto have had low-linolenic varieties on the market for several years. These soybeans contain low amounts of linolenic acid. These types of soybeans can reduce or eliminate transfatty acids in foods by replacing hydrogenated oils. Transfatty acids have been linked to obesity and heart disease.

Syngenta aims to launch ultra-low linolenic soybeans in 2009. These soybeans contain less than one percent linolenic acid.

All this means rising seed costs. "The retail price for beans today is in the mid-$30s (per bag) to the upper $30s before discounts," says Kassmeyer. "In the pre-glyphosate days, seed costs were $12 to $15 per bag."

Although this might pain your pocketbook, there's an upside in that it forces farmers and seed dealers to think more about soybean variety selection and inputs to protect those varieties.

"It used to be you'd spend quite a few hours selling corn hybrids, and maybe 10 minutes selling three pallets of beans," says Kassmeyer.

No more. Now, the increasing emphasis on traits and complex breeding techniques is prompting farmers to look more closely at soybean variety selection, he says. It's a way of boosting production so soybeans can stay competitive with corn when it comes to planted acreage. The biofuels market will continue to pressure soybean acres, he adds.

"The real dilemma in soybeans is how to get more production out of each acre," says Kassmeyer. Syngenta aims to meet this dilemma through its genetics, traits, and crop protection products, he adds.

Soybeans were first on the traits bandwagon when industry introduced glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in 1996.

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