Welcome Missouri’s Newest Soybean Breeder – Dr. Chen

The Fisher Delta Research Center soybean breeding team has gained national recognition for developing improved soybean varieties. The group releases four to six new varieties into the market every year as a result of their work, much of which is made possible through investments by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and soybean checkoff dollars.

dr-chen-2Pengyin Chen, formerly a soybean breeding and genetics professor at the University of Arkansas, has joined the team, accepting the MU Division of Plant Sciences David M. Haggard Endowed Professorship of Soybean Breeding. Chen will replace Grover Shannon professor, emeritus in the Division of Plant Sciences, as the head of the program, although Shannon will stay on in a part-time role to help with the transition.

“What you’ve got in Pengyin is a man with outstanding credentials,” Shannon said. “He’s well-known worldwide. He’s an excellent mentor and trainer of students. He’s farmer-friendly and enjoys working with all farmers. He knows what he’s doing. His track record speaks for itself.

“He’s going to be excellent. I don’t think people even understand how good of a job he’s going to do. I’m excited.”
Chen officially joined the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Fisher Delta Research Center Sept. 1. He hit the ground running, meeting with growers and industry while walking fields during the Center’s annual field day.

“I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity,” Chen said. “Grover has one of the top programs in the nation, with great support all around. I told the farmers in the Missouri Bootheel that I’m excited to help them. I’m very receptive to any input that they have.”

“We’re extremely fortunate and proud to have attracted someone of Pengyin’s caliber to join our division and our College,” added Jim English, director of the Division of Plant Sciences. “I’m confident that in short order, he will become an important player in the continuing success and growth of MU’s soybean breeding program.”

A Strong Relationship
Shannon and Chen have collaborated on several projects since Chen joined the University of Arkansas in 2001. Their relationship goes back much further than that, however.

The duo met in the late 1980s, as Chen was finishing his doctoral degree at Virginia Tech.

“Our relationship goes back a long time ago, when I was first getting into the soybean business,” Chen said. “We met during the annual soybean breeders’ tour. He turned out to be a great mentor.

“Over the years, he kept encouraging me to learn as much as I could and strengthen my technical skillset. He was a big supporter of my career every step along the way.”

A lot of Shannon and Chen’s work together has focused on high oleic soybeans. Mizzou has two patents dealing with high oleic soybeans and works closely with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and soybean checkoff to ensure the benefits of their research are realized by farmers.

Shannon has been working with soybeans for 40 years. He received his Ph.D. in genetics and plant breeding from Purdue University in the early 1970s after receiving his undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University. He began his career at the Fisher Delta Research Center in 1974. After stops at other locations, Shannon has been back at Fisher Delta for the past 20 years.

Chen also has a great relationship with another Mizzou soybean breeder – Andrew Scaboo. Scaboo earned his doctoral degree in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Arkansas, studying under Chen, and now leads Missouri’s Northern Soybean Breeding Program, based at the Missouri Soybean Association’s Bay Farm Research Facility in Columbia.

“Pengyin really cares about his students,” Scaboo said. “He has a long history in the public and private sector of education and training. He’s also strong in variety development. A lot of his soybeans are being grown by farmers across the country.”

Chen’s main soybean research at the University of Arkansas focused on conventional variety development with high yield, pest resistance and stress tolerance. Chen’s primary focus is to improve the quality of soybeans.

Chen also has done research on developing soybean germplasm for future breeding purposes.

“He’s developed a lot of good soybeans,” Shannon said. “He’s worked with a lot of different soybeans, including ones that are drought tolerant, high protein and some that have improved digestibility for livestock and poultry.”

Along with his research, Chen trains students and is heavily involved with seed companies to promote and market new soybean varieties.

The University of Missouri has one of the largest soybean breeding programs in the nation, as far as public universities go, working with state and national soybean organizations on research and education efforts through the soybean checkoff, as well as other partners to fuel that growth.

Shannon has played a huge role in that – and he’s happy to see where Chen takes the program.
“He’ll come in and take MU to new places,” Shannon said. “I’m looking forward to helping Pengyin in the next year or so. I think the next few years are going to be wonderful. He’s going to bring a new perspective to what we’re doing.

Chen added that he’s excited to take the reins of the program, and he’s equally thrilled to continue the learning process while working with someone he admires.

“I’m an old kid on a new block,” Chen said. “I think I have enough gas left in the tank for another good run. I’m extremely excited. This is a new chapter of my professional career.”

“Pengyin is being humble when he says he may have another run in him,” said Trent Haggard, director of the Fisher Delta Research Center. “He keeps a very busy schedule, is very organized, professional, detail oriented and has high energy. We are very excited about the interactions we have had with him already. Pengyin will inherit a powerful team that Grover put together. This talented team has worked together for years and has also known Pengyin for years.”