September 1, 2014

USDA tests soybean varieties for durability in climate change

Nebraska is one of the nation’s top soybean producers and researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are hoping to help growers by determining which soybean varieties react the best to a changing climate.

James Bunce is a research plant physiologist with the USDA.

“We’re looking for variation among soybeans in how they respond to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration,” Bunce says.

Rising CO2 tends to stimulate yields of many different kinds of crops, according to Bunce, including some soybeans.

“What we’re trying to do is just optimize that stimulation by finding the varieties that respond best when grown at high CO2,” Bunce says. “Ultimately, we’re trying to find the genes that are responsible for that, but the first step is just to find varieties that respond better than others.”

Bunce says finding the most CO2 adaptable soybeans is important because it will help maintain an abundant and affordable food supply. He notes the U.S. is “remarkably lucky” in terms of our natural resources.

“The amount of money that we spend per capita for food is very low compared to most other places in the world, just because we have such abundant food crops and resources to grow them,” Bunce says. “This is just trying to keep that favorable balance of food supply intact as the climate changes.”

Nebraska produced more than 207-million bushels of soybeans in 2012, ranking the Husker State 5th best in the nation. Soybeans are increasingly used for human consumption and alternative fuel, but are still predominantly used as animal feed.