Missouri plant breeders await results from Vietnam
PORTAGEVILLE -- As Missouri farmers play the waiting game with Asian soybean rust this summer, Missouri plant breeders are eagerly awaiting the results of local varieties being grown in rust-infected plots in Vietnam.
Last month soybean breeder Grover Shannon of the University of Missouri's Delta Center in Portageville, along with other University of Missouri plant breeders, visited Vietnam to check on the varieties as well as update the Vietnamese farmers on soybean breeding and biotechnology.
"We were there for a couple of weeks and the rust was just beginning to show up," Shannon said. "We will know a lot more when we get the results back in the next few weeks."
Prior to the trip, the soybean breeders had sent 100 top soybean varieties -- 50 from southeast Missouri and 50 from northern Missouri -- to be tested by Vietnamese researchers in plots near Hanoi.
In Vietnam's moist and humid climate, which is favorable for Asian soybean rust, the Missouri soybeans were flowering -- a stage when the plants become most susceptible to infection by the fungus. During its visit, the group saw signs of infection on susceptible Vietnamese varieties with just a few Missouri varieties showing infection.
According to MU officials, it will be critical for Missouri farmers to know which local varieties are naturally resistant or tolerant to Asian soybean rust should it become prevalent in the state.
Last December the fungus that can stunt plant growth and wipe out a large portion of the crop was discovered near Portageville, Caruthersville and areas close to the Arkansas state line.
Resistant varieties would reduce the need for spraying fungicides to control the rust.
"The Vietnamese are testing our varieties in two locations," David Sleper, UM plant breeder said in a released statement. "One test is in open fields with other Vietnamese varieties. The second test is in a net house with Missouri soybeans and alternating rows of rust-susceptible Vietnamese varieties."
U.S. breeders want maximum exposure to the rust spores.
"Basically what it's going to do is give us a jump start on waiting for resistance to rust and get us the information sooner than others," Shannon said about the experiment.
While in Vietnam, the Missourians also worked out an agreement for Vietnamese soybean breeders to crossbreed their rust-resistant varieties.
"It looks real promising," Shannon said.
Once Missouri soybean breeders find out which lines were resistant, they'll be able to start cross-breeding them, Shannon said.
"Hopefully within five or six years we'll be able to have rust- resistant soybeans," Shannon said.
The group also gave lectures to Vietnamese students and faculty on soybean biotechnology, including flooding tolerance and the importance of crop rotation.
In Vietnam, farmers grow three crops of rice a year and it's a continuance rice, Shannon said. They don't plant many soybeans so they don't do rotation crops, which can better the soil for planting, he explained.
"Soybeans make nitrogen and it could actually help rice production if they grow soybeans in between two crops of rice," Shannon said.
Shannon is quick to point out he doesn't think there will ever be a problem with Vietnam being a soybean competitor to the United States.
All of the Vietnamese farms are very small, about 10 acres, Shannon noted. Few of the farmers plant soybeans and of those who do, they average about 18 bushels per acre versus 40, 50 and 60 bushels per acre by U.S. farmers.
The agreement to test Missouri beans in the Asian rust environment was arranged by Henry Nguyen, director of the National Soybean Biotechnology Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is working in cooperation with the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute and Cantho University.
Other MU researchers on the trip were Gary Stacey of Columbia, Tara VanToai of the USDA Agriculture Service and Tom Clemente of the University of Nebraska. The Vietnam Education Foundation sponsored the teaching exchange between the two.
Meanwhile, back in the states, 93 percent of Missouri soybeans were planted as of Monday, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The main thing farmers can do to protect their crops this year is to use fungicides, although it is costly.
Shannon admitted those in the agriculture business have no idea what the rust will do this summer and into the fall.
"We're hoping it won't get here," Shannon said. "There's none so far and none reported in the states south of us up to now. The longer it holds, the better."
For more information about soybean rust, visit the American Soybean Association's Web site: www.soyrap.com.