The state’s new soybean breeder Carrie Miranda was quick to point out during the Williston Research Extension Center and Nesson Valley field days that all the soybeans working their way through North Dakota’s new variety pipeline right now are the work of her predecessor, Ted Helms, who retired in June after 33 years.
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t already started working on new lines of her own and, during the tours, she also outlined what are some very ambitious goals for the future of soybeans in North Dakota.
“I want to reassure everyone that releasing varieties is the name of my game,” she said. “I am a breeder.”
But, she also has a strong background in molecular biology, genetics, and bioinformatics — tools she hopes to leverage in ways that will not only sharpen the breeding process, but speed it up. She hopes to take it from the typical seven to 10-year timeframe down to more like five to seven.
“And then also being able to be smarter about picking the high-yielding lines earlier than later,” she said.
She is also aware of high interest in new herbicide systems, and the fact that some NDSU varieties are using off-patent technology. That not only eliminates a licensing fee but lets farmers save their seeds.
“I’m still dedicated to that as well,” she said.
Glyphosate-resistant weeds have already proven to be a widespread issue in Missouri and Iowa, she noted, and, although soybeans are a young crop in the state, she expects the same situation to evolve in North Dakota as well. Indeed, resistant weeds are already on their way to prevalence in the MonDak.
“I’m already looking to the next page,” she said. “What’s the most useful herbicide we can use in the NDSU program? But, like I was saying yesterday, (during the WREC tour) it actually involves a lot more lawyers than scientists. So that is really the difficulty I have. Who owns these patents? Are they willing to share it? Are they going to totally gouge a North Dakota farmer for an NDSU variety?”
She’s taking all of those things into consideration as she is choosing the next herbicide tolerance to add to the soybean breeding program.
This forward-thinking also applies to diseases. Miranda is fully expecting to see the same diseases that are plaguing other soybean states to appear in North Dakota as well.
“We don’t really see SCN yet. We don’t really see soybean sudden death yet,” she said. “And I plan on keeping it that way.”
She’s going to do that by putting SCN-resistant varieties into the pipeline now.
“I’m already looking ahead even further to let’s get to forms of resistance genes, and really make sure we keep those populations low, so that we don’t get these massive infections that we’ve seen in all the other soybean producing states,” she said.
She noted that soybean sudden death has been spotted in a few cases, mainly on the eastern side of the state. That will spread if resistance isn’t put into the breeding lines.
“So that’s my role in trying to prevent some of these disease that I know would be inevitable without action,” she said. “And in both these cases, SDS and SCN, the best mechanism of protection is through genetic resistance in your variety.”
Miranda also asked growers on the Field Day tour at Nesson Valley about their interest in high oleic soybean oil. There’s a growing demand for high oleic soybean oil in the markets, and so she has also already begun to work on developing some of these lines as well.
“The benefit of this soybean is that you get a premium for it,” she said.
It will be quite a few years before any of these new lines are ready, however, and in the meantime there are logistics to work out such as whether it will be taken to elevators or directly to production plants.
She added that as a breeder, she knows it’s not her role to tell growers what they want to grow, but rather, she hopes growers will tell her what they are looking for.
“I want to hear what are your concerns with farming soybeans,” she said. “Or, better yet, besides asking me for 80 bushels an acre yield, what would incentivize you to grow more soybean right? I mean, that’s what I’m here for. Especially, what would incentivize you to buy an NDSU soybean variety.”