Soybean Research Could End Farmer's Guessing Game

9 years 1 month 3 weeks ago Sunday, May 23 2010 May 23, 2010 Sunday, May 23, 2010 9:09:49 PM CDT May 23, 2010 in News
For Bob Benoit, soybean and corn farming runs through his blood.

"This farm was bought by my grandfather in the early 1960s, and then my dad bought it from him in the late 1960s, and I bought it from my dad in 2004," Benoit said.

Owning about 2,000 acres, Benoit describes his days in one word. "Busy," Benoit said. "There is no average day, everyday is different. There's never two days alike."

Staying busy, and always anticipating the unexpected, sometimes planting soybeans can be a guessing game.

"The frustrating part is the weather never seems to cooperate just like you want it to," Benoit said. "That normally causes the most problems."

Missouri is the fifth largest soybean producer in the country, but if conditions aren't right, planting can be delayed.

"The best planting month for soybeans is May," Benoit said. "Now, we are waiting for the fields to dry up and we'll start."

But in a non-traditional soybean setting, University of Missouri Professor Henry Nguyen's doing some planting of his own.

"With the soybean genome, technology that is available now, we can develop methodologies like what you see in here, to streamline that selection process by selecting for that specific gene that's related to the trait," Nguyen said.

In January, Nguyen and a team of researchers identified more than one billion DNA pairs in a soybean. By pin-pointing specific genetic information, researchers can improve the soybean farmers' plant.

"It's a really good commodity, but we need to start looking into the future," Nguyen said.

Soybeans are one of the most important crop plants for their protein and oil. It represents about a $30 billion industry in the United States.

Nguyen's genome team identified distinct traits that affect plant development, disease resistance, seed quality and nutritional traits. This could lead to increased production of soy biodiesel, an alternative fuel source, healthier oils, more nutritious animal feed and higher yields.

But more importantly, research could help Benoit plant soybeans under those less than perfect conditions.

"Research will probably have positive effects for farmers and we'll probably have some increase in profitability because of it," Benoit said. "And that's what we're trying to do out here, make a profit."

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