Soybean Research Maximizing Checkoff Doll

July 6, 2015 Ohio Soybean Council

By Matt Reese, guest writer, Ohio’s Country Journal

Though it may seem counterproductive for one researcher to breed soybeans and another researcher to kill them, it is exactly this unique synergy of efforts that is taking place to benefit the profitability of Ohio soybean growers.

“I am a soybean breeder and geneticist so I aim to develop cultivars with a good profile of disease resistance as well as good yield and good quality traits. A lot of the cultivars we develop are for the food grade industry so they need high protein and large seed size,” said Leah McHale, director the Ohio State University Soybean Breeding and Genetics Lab.

“Then I try to kill what she develops, literally,” said Anne Dorrance, OSU Extension plant pathologist. “That is because we want it to grow in Ohio. Ohio has many soil types that are heavy clay and poorly drained so there are a plethora of problems. With that in mind, we screen for resistance in the lab trying to identify the lines that will hold up under Ohio’s tough conditions. We need to grow varieties that can stand up to a whole season to get a high yield and a profit at the end of the season. Especially in the low price years, it is really important to get the highest yield, and that is what it is all about.”

Though they work at opposite ends of the soybean life cycle, both McHale and Dorrance are funded by Ohio Soybean Council checkoff dollars to bring a better soybean seed to the market for farmers to plant in their fields. There is tremendous cooperation required for success — even across completely separate areas of study — for the development of soybean genetics with a strong disease package.

“We first have to identify what sources of resistance should be used. We have to identify where the starting point should be. The second part is that we go and develop these populations where we identify the genetic regions to find those markers that are associated with that source of resistance,” Dorrance said. “That facilitates not only the breeding that goes on here at Ohio State but there are also companies using that information as well in the development of their own cultivars.”

In terms of the soybean breeding program at Ohio State, it has been a busy and successful year.

“We released four cultivars this year, which is the most that we have released in any year since I have been here,” McHale said. “These came from disease screening that Anne had done. She screened hundreds of potential breeding lines for us and these four rose to the top as being the most resistant. They also have high yield and two of them are for the food grade market so they have high protein and other traits that are important for tofu production.

“In our yield trials we do not always have the same disease pressure that you’d find on Ohio farms, that is where Anne comes in. We used to only send Anne the top yielding varieties for her to evaluate, but she was killing them all. Now we send her hundreds of lines and she goes through and screens all of those for resistance. We pick the best ones.”

The key diseases being studied in Dorrance’s research include Phytophthora and

“In a year we are individually inoculating an acre of plants one by one — that is 180,000 to 220,000 plants. There are multiple things coming out of that effort,” Dorrance said. “We are identifying sources of resistance for future varieties and finding markers associated with the genes so companies can use that to identify genetic regions that are controlling the resistance in their lines. We have multiple purposes for everything we are doing.”

Though they work on different OSU campuses, McHale and Dorrance regularly talk to stay informed about what is happening in their separate labs.

“Everybody can’t be an expert on everything so I take on the breeding and genetics part and Anne takes on the pathology part. We are happy to be experts in our own fields and to benefit from each other,” McHale said. “We meet with each other regularly and work together well. We even finish each other’s sentences sometimes — I don’t hold it against her for killing my plants.”

It takes this kind of teamwork and joint efforts across a wide range of research fields to create a complete portfolio of research to enhance overall soybean profitability. With this in mind, the decisions about what research should be funded to maximize the return on investment of the soybean checkoff require careful consideration.

For more, visit the Soybean Rewards web page at Also, see the related video at by searching for keywords “Soybean synergy.”