Leandro Mozzoni, a University of Arkansas alumnus, returned to his alma mater as the new soybean breeder with the goal of accelerating the state’s breeding program.
“Coming from the private sector, I have a focus toward developing products,” Mozzoni said in a university news release. “I want to get new varieties in the hands of Arkansas growers.”
While in graduate school, Mozzoni worked as a research assistant to crop breeder Pengyin Chen in the university’s Division of Agriculture’s soybean breeding program.
After completing his degrees, Mozzoni joined Monsanto Co. from 2009 until returning to the university in September 2017.
During his tenure with Monsanto, he established a soybean breeding program in Nebraska, building it from the ground up. His work included selecting germplasm stock and establishing a testing network to support development of maturity Group 2 and 3 soybeans adapted to the Midwest.
His efforts led to the release and patenting of 16 new soybean varieties.
Developing new varieties
Mozzoni’s goals for the Division of Agriculture’s soybean breeding program is three-pronged.
The first is to develop new soybean varieties for Arkansas growers.
Although his core effort will continue to emphasize developing new commodity soybean varieties, Mozzano said he also wants to continue the work Chen began on food type soybeans — edamame, natto and tofu.
“The Division of Agriculture’s breeding program has a strong foundation built by Dr. Chen,” Mozzoni said. “We have a lot of pure, conventional germplasm and unique genetic breeding material.”
The division’s soybean breeding program has a solid foundation of maturity Group 5 varieties already released and breeding selections in the pipeline moving toward commercial release, he said.
Mozzoni is taking steps to accelerate variety development, especially in maturity Group 4. He is using research nurseries in Chile to grow generations of soybean selections during Arkansas’ winter months, cutting about two years off what it takes to develop a new variety.
Once an advanced selection has proven potential as a variety, it will be tested for adaptation, yield potential and other traits in Arkansas nurseries.
Mozzoni said he can shave another six months off the timeline by making new crosses in the winter in Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station greenhouses instead of waiting for plants to grow to reproductive stages in outdoor breeding plots.
“We want to do quality research,” Mozzoni said. “But at the end of the day, we want to get new soybean varieties out and identify markets for them.”
Mozzoni’s second goal is to advance the science of crop breeding. He has already begun by moving toward meeting a budding demand for maturity Group 4 soybeans in Arkansas.
Right now, he said, the Arkansas program is split roughly 70 percent maturity Group 5 varieties to 30 percent Group 4’s. His goal is to gradually reverse that ratio.
“The industry has moved toward maturity Group 4 in Arkansas,” Mozzoni said. “We have an opportunity and a challenge to build a Group 4 program.”
To do this, he is seeking available Group 4 germplasm sources from public breeding programs in other states and is watching for opportunities to work with commercial companies willing to share breeding material.
At the same time, he is working with researchers in other disciplines to identify genetic markers for traits, such as yield, drought tolerance and disease resistance.
Mozzoni also wants to digitize the division’s soybean breeding records that date back to 1946.
His final goal is to train and mentor the next generation of crop scientists. That is, after all, how Mozzoni got here.