Plant breeders support Ontario soybean exports

RIDGETOWN, Ont. — Ontario farmers can thank the province’s plant breeders when they set out to harvest what could prove to be a billion-dollar soybean crop later this year.

“Plant breeding is critical for numerous reasons,” said Joe Hickson, a director with Grain Farmers of Ontario.

“We have to have the genetics for our climate and on the trait side, the more we can differentiate from the United States, Brazil or whoever, the better. In the long term, we need to have a value that the soybeans on a ship coming out of Brazil don’t have.”

The newest soybean breeder in Ontario understands the challenge.

“Our program is using different strategies to improve traits and introduce new ones,” said Milad Eskandari, who recently took over the late Gary Ablett’s breeding program at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus.

“Our goal is to have good varieties in regard to yield and agronomics and at the same time, because more than 70 percent of our soybeans in Ontario are for export, to make our customers a lot happier.”

He said a particular trait won’t necessarily result in a premium for growers, but international buyers are more likely to buy from Ontario if growers can supply soybeans with an enhanced level of nutrition, improved oil and protein content or some other special attribute.

Eskandari and his team have a variety of objectives. One project uses mutagenesis, which involves inducing a mutation in part of the genome.

“I’m introducing 10,000 seeds from a single variety from the University of Minnesota that have been randomly mutated,” he said.

Some will fail to germinate or thrive, while the remaining plants will be visually evaluated for agronomic performance.

The seed from likely candidates, perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 plants in all, will then be tested for seed quality traits including oil, protein and fatty acid profile.

He said it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. The aim is to identify a plant, or hopefully a number of plants, with a novel trait that has value for the industry.

The next step is to make a cross with an elite variety in the hope that the trait will be carried forward and eventually become part of a new variety.

One specific goal is to develop a variety with “sulfur-containing amino acids,” which would make it more valuable for feed purposes.

Other program objectives include breeding for resistance to the soybean cyst nematode, a soil-borne disease spreading through the province, and developing soybeans with higher levels of isoflavones.

Eskandari said a key consideration is the introduction of varieties with strong agronomic benefits, including better yields.

Murray Insley of the Hensall District Co-operative said yield lag is no longer much of a consideration with identity preserved soybeans, even with food grade varieties, which means growers interested in IP opportunities often receive the full benefit from the premiums offered.

These add up to about $3 a bushel for food grade varieties, on top of the $13 per bu. the marketplace has been offering for new crop beans.

“The premium is as high as or higher than it’s ever been,” Insley said.

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