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Cultivating Excellence: The University of Missouri Breeding Program

Female researcher working in soybean lab
By Samantha Turner

The MU’s soybean breeding program, with MSMC, excels in ag innovation, from high-yield soybeans to SCN research.

The University of Missouri (MU) boasts a rich history and a commitment to excellence in various fields, including agriculture. One of the university’s standout initiatives is its comprehensive soybean breeding program, a dynamic hub of innovation and research that plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of agriculture.

“The MU breeding program is a wonderful partnership with our land-grant university to serve the needs of our soybean growers to advance genetics,” said Justin Rone, MSMC director and farmer from Portageville, Missouri. “The program promotes bringing new varieties to the market and advancements that will increase yield through disease resistance, environmental stress tolerance and quality.”

With roots that can be traced back decades, the soybean breeding program, powered by MSMC, exemplifies MU’s dedication to advancing sustainable and productive farming practices. Through the innovative program, MU develops new soybean varieties – conventional, Enlist E3, Roundup, Liberty and high oleic. Researchers develop projects to understand better soybean genetic mechanisms, seed composition and breeding methodologies.

“Public breeding and research programs are an extremely important investment, as these are where discoveries and varieties are made that improve farmers’ productivity and profitability,” said Andrew Scaboo, MU assistant professor and leader of the Northern Missouri soybean breeding program. “Once these novel scientific discoveries are made and new technologies are developed, private companies take the knowledge and technologies and scale them for the marketplace.”

Research ROI

MU’s soybean breeding program has a storied history, one that has addressed agricultural challenges and brought top-tier innovations to the state. One of the program’s leading innovations is the MSMC SOYLEIC soybean varieties.

SOYLEIC is a non-GMO, high-oleic oil trait developed by the MU and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA and patented by MSMC. The product of years of conventional soybean breeding, SOYLIEC soybeans have the functionality and performance that soybean oil is known for and a high-oleic fat profile that naturally eliminates trans fats.

“SOYLEIC soybeans are an excellent representation of Missouri Soybeans’ checkoff research at work,” said Bryan Stobaugh, Missouri Soybeans’ director of commercialization and licensing. “Every small item adds up in research, and the checkoff allows us to compete, innovate, educate and promote one of the most versatile crops on the planet. It is amazing what one session of trial and error in the field can lead to – SOYEIC soybeans.”

The relative maturity range of commercially available SOYEIC varieties allows for contract production across maturity groups 1-7 in the U.S. soybean-growing region. Missouri Soybeans has 20 states with SOYEIC soybeans being commercially produced.

Another robust advancement of the MU soybean breeding program is the renowned breakthroughs in soybean cyst nematode (SCN) research.

For the past four years, a team of scientists at the MU, the University of Georgia (UGA) and the USDA have been devoted to discovering a new gene to combat SCN and improve the profitability and productivity of farmers worldwide. As a result, the research has led to the recent discovery of a new gene, GmSNAP02, for soybean breeders, farmers and private industry to utilize.

“This is a novel mechanism for SCN resistance and serves as an instrumental breakthrough for farmers in Missouri and beyond,” said Aaron Porter, MSMC chairman. “By harnessing the power of GmSNAP02, farmers can look forward to increased yields and reduced economic losses caused by SCN.”

Additionally, MSMC devotes dollars to identifying soybeans with higher water-use efficiency.

“Our producers should be proud of their checkoff investment in this program,” said Gary Wheeler, Missouri Soybeans’ CEO and executive director. “This past year is a direct example. The technology developed at our land-grant institution made the yields possible despite a devastating drought. Because of what we have bred and our changes to our state’s resilient crop, soybeans can handle the pendulum that swings when dealing with Mother Nature.”

The checkoff continues to evaluate agronomic management practices and ways to conserve water in the soil better than we are today.

“Sustained investment in genetic development and soybean breeding focused on drought resiliency has provided farmers with soybean varieties that withstand and produce in water-stressed conditions,” said Eric Oseland, Missouri Soybeans’ director of research and agronomy. “Ultimately, these varieties infiltrate the market through the private sector, but often the genetic development can be credited to checkoff-funded research at public institutions.”

Over the years, the program has evolved and expanded, embracing advancements in technology, genetics and agricultural science. Today, it stands as a testament to MU’s enduring commitment to addressing the ever-changing needs of the farming industry.

“We have proven ourselves in the past 20 years to stand out as a world-class breeding program,” said Wheeler. “We are now one of the top six programs that provide germplasm and technology to major seed companies in the industry.”

Student sorting soybeans
Framing the Future

The MU soybean breeding program still has a lot of opportunity for growth, and fortunately, those options are available in the state due to the expansive range of maturity groups. Wheeler explained that Missouri covers maturity groups anywhere from 3.2 to 5.1.

“Many people look at the breeding program as a research powerhouse, but many of our victories come from the simple things,” said Wheeler. “Those simple innovations have a large impact.”

As part of its holistic approach, MU’s soybean breeding program is committed to nurturing the next generation of agricultural scientists. Through hands-on research opportunities, mentorship programs and state-of-the-art facilities, students at MU are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to address the complex challenges facing modern agriculture.

“We have trained more than 350 individuals from this program,” said Wheeler. “Training future scientists and plant breeders is critical to the Missouri soybean farmers’ investments. It aids our industry in allowing us to steer the program commercially while not impacting academia.”

The success of the MU breeding program is not confined to the laboratory. The program actively collaborates with farmers, industry partners and other research institutions to ensure that its findings have real-world impact. Additionally, MU strongly emphasizes outreach and extension services, disseminating knowledge about improved crop varieties to farmers across the region and beyond.

For the Farmer
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“I want farmers to know that MU and its partnership with the checkoff is producing high-quality, high-yielding soybeans. We are running a powerful program on a shoestring budget and competing on yield.”

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Justin Rone
MSMC director and farmer from Portageville, Missouri

Rone further explains that the MU soybean breeding program is conducting research directly relevant to Missouri producers and what the Show-Me State’s farmers need, which provides added value, unlike other seed brands.

The MU soybean breeding program is a beacon of innovation and excellence in agriculture. Through decades of research, collaboration and a steadfast commitment to sustainability, MU continues to make significant contributions to advancing crop breeding practices.

“We must keep challenging the breeding program to deliver for our farmers and offer alternatives to the seed industry’s big three,” said Porter. “We must understand why we are here and strive to achieve our mission instead of maintaining the status quo.”

As the agricultural landscape continues to evolve, the MU remains at the forefront, cultivating a legacy of excellence that extends beyond the campus and into the fields that feed the world.

“This is a pivotal program with immense potential, and if the farmer wants to see success in the breeding program, we have to continue to have knowledge transfer and make sure the university knows the importance of what the partnership is today and what it could be,” says Wheeler. “Partnership will be critical for the future success of this program.”

MU’s soybean breeding program, in collaboration with the MSMC, epitomizes excellence and innovation in agriculture. From high-oleic soybean varieties to breakthroughs in cyst nematode research, the program actively addresses challenges soybean growers face, fostering real-world impact through collaboration with farmers and industry partners.

The program remains dedicated to growth, solidifying its position at the forefront of agricultural advancements and contributing significantly to the industry’s excellence and innovation.

To learn more about the MSMC’s checkoff investments in research, please visit our research page.

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