Soybean research in Minnesota

Soybean is planted on more than 7 million acres annually in Minnesota. The crop occupies approximately 25% of crop acreage planted in the state and is surpassed only by corn in acreage planted nationwide.

By advancing soybean genetics and combating invasive diseases, insects and weeds, University of Minnesota researchers are working to make soybean production more efficient, profitable, and sustainable to benefit farmers and Minnesota’s environment.

Below is a sampling of ongoing MAES research projects related to soybean. This list does not encompass all soybean research at the University of Minnesota.

Expanding knowledge of the biology and management of important soybean and corn diseases in the northern U.S.
Dean K Malvick
The overall goals of this project are to develop and exploit new information on the biology and pathogenicity of key soybean and corn diseases that will lead to improved and durable disease management strategies, improved crop yields, and reduced risk of disease in production fields.  Research focuses on an important set of soybean diseases - white mold, sudden death syndrome (SDS), Rhizoctonia root rot, and brown stem rot (BSR) - which widespread and problematic in Minnesota. They occur inconsistently from year to year depending on summer weather, and at least one of these diseases is a significant problem in Minnesota nearly every year. Managing these diseases is challenging and there are many unanswered questions about reducing risk of disease development and optimizing disease management. Research is determining which environmental factors, fungal traits, and disease management tactics influence the survival and spread of these diseases and evaluating different disease management practices.

Biological control of invasive insects: Principles and implementation    
George Heimpel
This work is dedicated to biological control of the soybean aphid in Minnesota, focusing mainly on the introduced parasitoid Aphelinus certus, which is an effective predator of soybean aphid. Research is improving our understanding of overwintering strategies and how overwintering of this beneficial insect can be improved and also assessing whether the hyperparasitoids of A. certus pose a serious threat to this biological control. Additional studies examining the possible 'spillover' of biological control services from agricultural to natural settings to see if some invasive pests that move from agricultural to natural settings are controlled by the same biological control agents in the natural settings.

Assessing and managing insecticide-resistant soybean aphids
Robert Koch
This research addresses insecticide-resistant soybean aphids. Cost-effective management of soybean aphid relies on threshold-based applications of insecticides. However, the soybean aphid has recently evolved resistance to one of the most commonly used groups of insecticides (i.e., pyrethroids). With few other pest management tools, the magnitude and mechanisms of this resistance problem needs to be assessed and research-based resistance management recommendations developed and disseminated. Our research is determining the geographic and temporal variability soybean aphid resistance to pyrethroids; and determining genetic and physiological components related to pyrethroid resistance in soybean aphid. 

Control of soybean diseases using cultural practices and genetic resistance    
James Kurle
This research is improving management of soybean diseases important in Minnesota and developing disease control recommendations based on an understanding of the interaction of cultural practices with soybean diseases found in the state's soybean producing areas. Our goal is to provide accurate information on the prevalence and occurrence of soybean diseases, particularly seed, seedling, and root rots. We’re identifying potential resistance and collaborating to develop soybean cultivars with resistance to soybean diseases occurring in or threatening soybeans in Minnesota. Research is also improving and accelerating phenotyping methods for identification of resistance to root diseases.

Soybean breeding and genetics
Aaron Lorenz
Soybean breeding is an important activity that results in the development of new varieties improved for yield, time to maturity, disease resistance, insect resistance and quality. Soybean yields have increased from ~20 bu/ac in the early 1940s to near 50 bu/ac in 2019. Approximately 67% of this increase has been attributed to genetic gain, or in other words, the development of better varieties through breeding. The UMN Soybean Breeding Program strives to meet the following four objectives: 1) Develop superior general purpose, food-type, and specialty-type soybean cultivars adapted to Minnesota. 2) Identify and develop new traits, sources of pest resistance, and germplasm for new cropping systems and conventional cropping systems. 3) Research new methods for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of soybean breeding programs. 4) Educate and train graduate students in cultivar development and its allied sciences.

Zeroing in on the genes and mechanisms underlying soybean resistance to iron deficiency chlorosis
Robert Stupar and Aaron Lorenz
Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) is one of the most recalcitrant challenges encountered by soybean growers and is responsible for yield losses across vast acreages, particularly in the North Central United States. Breeding for IDC tolerance is inefficient, as it shows substantial genotype x environment interactions, inhibiting genetic improvement and understanding of the trait. Furthermore, the genes and molecular mechanisms underlying tolerance to IDC in soybean remain a significant knowledge gap for the research community. This research is investigating two distinct loci to identify genes underlying soybean iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) resistance variation, and enabling further investigations into the physiological and molecular mechanisms driving these processes.

Environmental limitations to soybean seed yield and quality in Minnesota
Seth Naeve
This research project is completing a comprehensive physical, chemical, and biological analysis of drainage, tillage, and N rates to evaluate long-term effects on Minnesota soils and productivity. It is evaluating the impact of various combinations of tillage and drainage that have become common in Minnesota and  examining how drainage and tillage impact spring soil conditions affecting planting, emergence, and vigor. The research is also studying the Iron Deficiency Chlorosis (IDC), which causes significant yield losses for Minnesota soybean producers across much of western Minnesota. We’re examining the tradeoffs and interactive effects between varieties, populations, and iron chelate rates across a range of IDC levels and the economic impact of IDC management strategies. 

Characterizing off-target CRISPR/CAS9 changes in soybean
Peter Morrell
CRISPR/Cas9 modification is a popular approach for modifying the physical characteristics or traits of plants, both for basic research and for crop improvement. It has the potential to alter single DNA positions without making changes elsewhere in the genome and without leaving behind the molecular machinery necessary for making the change. However, there is an ongoing debate in the scientific community about the potential for CRISPR/Cas9 modifications to cleave or alter DNA at unintended locations, a process referred to as "off-target" mutagenesis. Furthermore, there is debate regarding the possibility that the off-target mutations, when undetected, may be harmful to plant or even human health. This research is testing CRISPR/Cas9 modified soybeans for off-target changes. The isolation of CRISPR/Cas9 off-target changes relative to other sources should help plant breeders, genetic researchers, and regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions regarding applications and policy applied to the genetic effects of targeted modification. 

Precision nutrient management to enhance crop productivity and environmental quality    
Yuxin Miao
The major goal of this research is to develop precision nitrogen management strategies for the corn-soybean rotation system and potato to improve nitrogen use efficiency, economic returns and reduce negative impacts on water quality and the environment. Precision agriculture is used on less than 50 percent of corn and soybean acres in the United States, and this low utilization rate is often due to the high costs of the technologies. Dividing fields into several relatively uniform management zones (MZs) presents a practical, cost-effective approach to increasing the use of precision ag. After the MZs are successfully defined, they can be used for zone sampling to save cost and time, planting different crop varieties, variable rate seeding and variable rate fertilizer application, etc. This research is developing MZ-based integrated precision management of the corn-soybean rotation system to facilitate the wider adoption of PA in Minnesota.

Evaluating nutrient availability from manure applied to cropland in Minnesota
Melissa Wilson
Using manure as a nutrient source can be more complicated than using commercial fertilizers because the nutrients are not as readily available and may take several years to be released. On the other hand, manure is free or low-cost and provides soil health benefits that commercial fertilizers do not. The University of Minnesota developed nutrient availability guidelines several decades ago, but there have been changes in diets of livestock as well as how manure is managed and stored, all of which impact nutrient availability. This research is determining the nitrogen and phosphorus availability from a variety of manures applied to cropland in Minnesota across several soil types and climate conditions. Our goal is to better understand N and P release from manure and update the University guidelines so that farmers can make better decisions about when to apply manure to maximize benefits while reducing fertilizer costs. These guidelines may also be used by state agencies for manure management planning.

Developing integrated crop and weed management solutions for prevention and control of herbicide-resistant weeds in Minnesota
Debalin Sarangi
This research focuses on herbicide-resistant weeds, which are one of the major threats to crop production in Minnesota. We are confirming the presence and distribution of herbicide-resistant weeds in Minnesota’s cropping systems and evaluating weed emergence as a function of environmental factors. We’re also studying how different integrated weed management approaches, like narrow row spacing, cover cropping, harvest weed seed control, and chemical weed control, can be combined into an effective multi-tactic weed management approach.