Bayer commits to Southern soybeans with new breeding stations

Monty Malone
Monty Malone (left) and assistant soybean breeder, Jiao Want, at the new Soybean Breeding Station in Marion, Ark.

A relative newcomer to soybean development, Bayer has reconfirmed its commitment to the Mid-South industry with the recent completion of a new soybean breeding station near Marion, Ark.

The Marion facility joins the Soybean Breeding and Trait Development Station Bayer completed in Pikeville, N.C., in 2014.

“This is the nicest germplasm facility that I’ve ever been in except for our Pikeville facility,” says Monty Malone, regional agronomist based in Conway, Ark.

Bayer became involved in soybean breeding when it acquired the 30-year-old Hornbeck Seed Co. of DeWitt, Ark.,  in 2011. The agreement included germplasm as well as the HBK Seed brand, which has since been brought under Bayer’s Credenz brand umbrella.

Since then, Bayer has acquired germplasm from several other sources, including South America, that brings a diverse range of genetic backgrounds, says assistant soybean breeder Paxton Fitts.

Bayer officially entered the Mid-South soybean market with its Credenz brand in 2014. The varieties offer a range of traits, including Liberty Link and glyphosate tolerance, as well as a host of disease packages.

As new varieties were developed, Bayer expanded the Credenz line nationwide, so now it offers varieties in all of the majority groups from 0 to 7.

Credenz soybeans
Plots showcase various maturity groups for field day attendees and other visitors.

Focus on group 4s and 5s

At the Marion station, breeders focus on mid-4 to mid-5 maturity groups, since that’s what the area growers plant. At Pikeville, breeders work with maturity groups 5, 6  and 7.

The breeding program was relocated from DeWitt once the Marion facility was completed early this spring.

The Marion site actually housed an Asgrow seed farm in the 1980s and then became Monsanto’s Mid-South soybean station after the St. Louis-based company acquired Asgrow.

The lease on the land expired in 2013, and Monsanto moved its Mid-South breeding program outside of Stuttgart, leaving the buildings to fall into disrepair.

When Bayer signed a new long-term lease, the company expanded the agreement to encompass a total of about 180 acres, Malone says. The existing buildings were razed, and the state-of-the-art facility was built.

The Marion facility comes into the picture about four to five years before a variety is commercially released.

At least an eight-year investment

The varietal development process begins in Puerto Rico, where traits, such as herbicide tolerance, are integrated into parent lines and initial crosses made. That material is then sent to Marion, where progeny rows are planted and breeders, such as Fitts, make advanced selections based on yields and some limited phenotypes — or visual characteristics.

The process is sped by South American nurseries, where another generation can be produced during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter.

The initial selections are whittled down to elite lines, which are put into on-farm Agronomic Performance Trials throughout the Mid-South about two years before commercialization.

These trials are designed to give growers, consultants and researchers insight into how varieties — including those of competitors — perform under local conditions. This year Bayer has more than 30 soybean APTs in the Mid-South.

“We try to have hundreds of data points before we ever sell a variety,” Malone says. “With the elite lines, we’re trying to find out how to fit them into the market, where they fit and where they don’t fit, and all of the disease characteristics that we have been able to capture during breeding.”

Varieties that may not fit Mid-South growing conditions aren’t discarded. Instead they’re shared with breeders either in Pikesville or in the Midwest.

A new variety typically takes about eight years and more than a dozen generations before it is launched commercially, Malone says.

State-of-the-art processing

The Marion station has state-of-the-art processing facilities where workers thresh the seed, clean it and package it for cold storage and future use. Under U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, materials that have not yet been deregulated, such as those containing new genetically engineered traits, must be kept separate from deregulated material.

To meet those requirements, the Marion facility actually has dedicated processing facilities and protocols so the materials won’t be comingled.

“We have all of the same equipment on the regulated side as we do on the deregulated side,” Fitts says.

—Vicky Boyd, Editor

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