May 21, 2024

A to Z: Pioneer details new soybeans

Panelists Jerry Carroll (from left), comedian; Liz Knutson, Pioneer U.S. soybean marketing lead; Don Kyle, Pioneer soybean breeding evaluation zone lead; and Delaney Howell, podcast host, discuss the launch of brand Z-Series soybeans during a Brunch with a Breeder event ahead of the recent Commodity Classic convention in Houston.

HOUSTON — Going back nearly a decade, even before the seed was tested in the field, plant breeder Don Kyle knew there was something special about Pioneer’s new Z-Series genetics.

“We had done a lot of scientific work to develop the new breeding techniques,” he said. “Then it became very obvious to us as we got on to second- and third-year testing of these genetics — we’re like, wow, these are just way better than anything we had produced in the past.”

The newest seed series from Pioneer will be available in limited quantities this year and commercially available next year.

“Pioneer has been America’s No. 1 soybean brand for over 20 years. And throughout the course of our 50-year history, we’ve gone from B to M to Y to T to A-Series — and now we’ve got Z-Series coming to market,” said Liz Knutson, Pioneer U.S. soybean marketing lead.

“We’ve trained our farmers, we’ve helped them understand that each time we bring a new series forward it’s going to bring them even more. So, as much as we’re comfortable and confident with A-Series, I know a lot of farmers are excited to see what’s coming next with the Z-Series.”

Growers have really come to know and trust the A-Series varieties, said Kyle, Pioneer soybean breeding evaluation zone lead.

“This represents a great step change for us as we apply everything we know in plant breeding today to bring these new genetics forward,” he said.

“When you think about the evolving science that we do to drive plant breeding, we try new concepts, we prove those concepts work and then we figure out how to logistically, resourcefully implement them on a broad scale. And that’s what we did.”

A-Series is known for yield and agronomics. Z-Series will offer that — and more.

“So, we’re still bringing yield, we’re still bringing agronomics, but it’s just even more than we expected before,” Knutson said.

How much more?

From a yield perspective, Knutson answered, 2.7 bushels per acre over current A-Series varieties, which already lead the market.

“That’s why our sales reps are so excited to bring them forward, because if I can bring 2.7 bushels to the acre more to my farmer-customer, that’s a real difference in their pocketbook and their livelihood for their family,” she said.

Knutson’s career with Corteva — in roles for seed production, sales and marketing — began in 2014, right after she graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural education.

She previously led the Pioneer team in southern Wisconsin and recently transitioned to oversee the U.S. soybean portfolio.

Raised on a small family farm near Manito in west-central Illinois, Kyle earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in crop science and plant breeding, respectively, from the University of Illinois.

Working for Pioneer since 1997, when he was hired as an assistant research manager in Ohio, he has been stationed at the Corteva Agriscience research center in Princeton in north-central Illinois since 2004.

The duo spoke with AgriNews during a Brunch with a Breeder event moderated by comedian Jerry Carroll and podcast host Delaney Howell before the start of the recent Commodity Classic convention in Houston.

Kyle said farmers are more intensively managing soybeans today — and, in turn, are being rewarded with bigger yields.

“When I started my plant breeding career, I think a lot of the view was soybeans were a rotational crop that you utilize in between whatever cycles of corn you were growing,” he said.

“Today, that’s a different mindset out there. There are a lot of farmers that equivocally manage, put as much management and thought into soybean production as they do corn, which is what they should be doing.

“And soybeans have responded through that management and through that increased respect or awareness of that crop. So, you’re seeing farmers being rewarded for that with higher soybean yields.”

Soybean yields in the United States have been increasing about half a bushel a year, Kyle said.

“When you look more locally, like Illinois and Indiana, in the last 10 to 15 years, soybean yields have been increasing a lot more because of adoption of newer genetics, adoption of new management techniques like early planting, new fungicide treatments, new seed treatments,” he added.

“Growers are more intensively managing soybeans today than they used to. And so when you couple new genetics and new management together, you see this exponential increase in yield.

“I don’t think it’s out of reason to think 90 bushels will be our norm in the next five to 10 years.”

As a plant breeder, Kyle strives to create stability, as well as increase yield.

“Soybeans have a lot of genetic potential inherently,” he said. “But what we try to do is build in the stability for them to deliver that at the end of the season — not only just increasing their efficiency of turning flowers into pods, but also protecting that yield.”

Knutson noted plant breeders are focused on incremental progress, so the Pioneer team knew they were onto something big when Kyle’s team spoke up.

“They’re a dry bunch. They’re looking at their data. They’re analytical,” she said. “So, for them to come forward and say, ‘this is the best stuff we’ve ever seen, we’ve never experienced yields like this before, we’ve never experienced stability like this before,’ that’s how we knew it was different.”

Z-Series soybeans offer improved disease tolerance for sudden death syndrome, brown stem rot, white mold and iron deficiency chlorosis, as well as expanded protection against soybean cyst nematode and Phytophthora.

Almost all varieties contain the Enlist E3 soybean trait for Liberty herbicide for tolerance to 2,4-D choline, glyphosate and glufosinate.

Kyle said he is excited for farmers to get their hands on the new seed.

“For me, my passion for being a plant breeder is really to help farmers,” he said. “And so when we get the opportunity to deliver step-change genetics like this, it’s a day that makes me smile.”

James Henry

James Henry

Executive Editor