Soybeans are the third largest crop in the United States, after corn and wheat, and drought is one of the greatest threats to crop profitability. A limitation in developing soybean varieties with higher yields under drought conditions is that the genetic base of elite U.S. soybean breeding programs is narrow. The new study focused on three specific characteristics that could make crops more drought tolerant and result in yield increases:
- The transpiration rate of the plants under dry-air conditions (i.e., how much water the leaves lose);
- How quickly the transpiration rate changed as soil conditions became more dry; and,
- How well the plants fixed nitrogen in drying soil.
Most soybean types have been found to lose more water through their leaves under dry-air conditions.
Previous research by Sinclair suggests that some varieties limit water use early in the season under dry-air conditions. This saves water for later in the growing season to “complete crop growth and potentially increase crop yield.” In this new study, the researchers identified new soybean varieties developed in breeding programs that express this water-savings characteristic.
Sinclair’s previous research showed that nitrogen fixation is the most important drought tolerant trait. Increased “drought tolerant nitrogen fixation” was predicted to result in yield increases in 85% or more of the years in most areas of the United States.
I am thinking this morning this year will be nothing like 13 and 14. These ideas might actually get tested again this year.