Few factors affect soybean farmers like the weather, and it is the one factor they can’t change, but only try to manage. But recent soybean checkoff-sponsored research may give soybean farmers another tool to manage one of the weather challenges that plague them — drought.

Two new soybean lines offer a genetic advantage for yields in drought conditions, according to new research. The University of Florida and University of Arkansas collaborated on research finding new soybean lines that are better able to fix nitrogen in spite of water deficit.

The lack of water when soil begins drying makes it harder for soybeans to fix nitrogen, which results in yield drag. This research could help reduce that yield drag.

“The discovery of these two new lines of soybeans is more than just an insurance policy against drought conditions,” says Tom Sinclair, University of Florida researcher. “These lines will help increase yields even in years with no obvious drought. These genes could be a yield enhancer in most every year.“

This discovery will allow the two lines to be used in breeding programs by seed companies.

The two research lines were yielding higher than commercial lines during tests in Arkansas, so seed companies may begin incorporating them into breeding programs soon.

And this work is just the beginning. Research is being done on a study that uses 3,500 samples of soybean lines collected around the world with another 12 lines initially identified as being drought resistant. This is part of a larger project, with drought research field plots at five universities and several industry partner sites across the country.

“What we have is good, and we hope to find lines that are even better,” says Sinclair.

The 12-year research project was unique in that it combined the physiology research with breeding efforts. Such an approach is unique due to the complexity and long-term commitment required.

A key to this success was the sustained support from the soybean checkoff, according to Sinclair. Most projects that have such a lengthy time frame; that integrate multiple disciplines, such as plant physiology and breeding; and that take place at multiple universities struggle to find funding.

“The soybean checkoff supports research that helps soybean farmers increase yields and become more productive as a result,” says Ken Dalenberg, United Soybean Board (USB) production chair and a soybean farmer from Mansfield, Ill. “We know farmers have to deal with drought, and the checkoff is proud to have been a part of the discovery of two drought-resistant lines.”

USB is made up of 64 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.