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Forage Soybeans
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Forage Soybean Cultivars: A Source of High Protein Livestock Feed

1. Description of Technology

The synthesis and release of three unique forage soybean cultivars provides livestock and dairy producers with a valuable new source of high protein feed for their livestock. These three cultivars are capable of growing to heights of 6 feet or more, twice the height of most traditional grain type soybeans. Each of the three cultivars is adapted to different regions of the country. Donegal is adapted to the Northeast, Derry is adapted to the northern Midwest, and Tyrone is adapted to the Southern States.

2. Technology Need

tall soybeans

Dairy and livestock producers need an inexpensive, readily available, on-farm source of high quality high protein forage adapted to growth during the hot summer months when other forage legume species typically are restricted in growth. Forage soybeans do not require the use of insecticides to control potato leafhopper damage, a chronic problem depressing yields of other legume crops. Severe winter conditions often result in stand loss of perennial forage crops such as alfalfa. In such circumstances, planting a fast growing crop such as forage soybeans can substitute for the unplanned deficit in high protein legume forage. In low cost sustainable agricultural systems forage soybeans can be grown without the use of herbicides, thus reducing production costs and chemical alteration of the environment. Strong interest in forage soybeans has also been shown by western beef producers for use as a transition feed for cattle coming from the range before entering feed lots for finishing on a high calorie diet.

Use of forage soybeans in areas of the country with a sufficiently long growing season to permit double cropping in a single year, permits harvest of the forage soybean in September, a month earlier than conventional grain soybeans. This permits earlier planting of a small grain crop such as wheat or barley. Earlier planting of the wheat or barley permits the grain crop to develop a more vigorous root system as the soil is warmer and the longer photoperiod provides for a longer period of photosynthesis. The more vigorous and extensive root system allows the wheat and barley plants to more efficiently scavenge nitrogen from the soil and sequester the nitrogen in the plant tissues during the winter rather than allowing the nitrogen to enter the streams and lakes as an undesirable contaminant. Consumers of meat and dairy products are important recipients of this technology in the form of a dependable low cost supply of nutritious food.

3. Initiation of Technology

The breeding program to synthesize forage soybean cultivars was initiated by Dr. Devine as a federal employee at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. A federal laboratory was the appropriate place to undertake this work since the private sector had not undertaken the work and expressed no interest in doing so. Furthermore, since the need for these cultivars extended across numerous state lines, a federal effort was required. The breeding program was initiated in 1979 with the initial hybridizations. The Agricultural Research Service formally released the three cultivars 24 September 1997. Plant Variety Protection was obtained 30 June 1999 and licenses were granted to industry in March and April 2001. The first appreciable marketing of seed to farmers was for spring planting in 2001.

4. Patents and Publications

Plant Variety Protection was obtained as follows:

No. 9800027     'Derry'
No. 9800028     'Donegal'
No. 9800029     'Tyrone'

A sample of publications is as follows:

Devine, T. E. and E. O. Hatley. 1998. Registration of 'Donegal' forage soybean. Crop Sci. 38:1719-1720.

Devine, T. E., E. O. Hatley, and D. E. Starner. 1998a. Registration of 'Derry' forage soybean. Crop Sci. 38:1719.

Devine, T. E., E. O. Hatley, and D. E. Starner. 1998b. Registration of 'Tyrone' forage soybean. Crop Sci. 38:1720.

5. Tech Transfer Partnership

The forage soybean cultivar Donegal was licensed to Seedway at Hall, New York; Derry was licensed to the Wolf River Valley Seed Company at White Lake, Wisconsin; and Tyrone was licensed to the Southern States Cooperative at Richmond, Virginia. The role of these partners was to make commercial scale increases of the seed of the cultivars and to market the seed to farmers. The goals of providing seed of each of these cultivars to farmers has been accomplished and farmers are now utilizing these new cultivars.

6. Technology Transfer Efforts Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

The achievement of successful transfer of forage soybean technology required efforts well beyond the normal requirements of Dr. Devine?ss position as research geneticist. As a Research Geneticist, he is charged with basic genetic studies and the development of useful germplasm. Providing hands on guidance for the licensing of soybean cultivars and dissemination of information to the agricultural industry and farmers is a dimension beyond the normal scope of his responsibilities. Since these three soybean cultivars were the first soybean cultivars bred for use as forage ever released by the United States Department of Agriculture, special efforts were needed to assist the USDA Technology Transfer Office and guide this technology to market production. Dr. Devine possessed the expertise required to achieve this goal and enthusiastically cooperated in the endeavor. He conveyed information on the characteristics of the new forage soybeans to farmers, extension agents, and research scientists in site visits and in hundreds of telephone conversations and mailings. For his efforts Dr. Devine received a Beltsville Area Technology Transfer Award.

7. Final Results

The three forage soybean cultivars have been licensed to the seed production industry, and seed production has been successfully achieved. Seed has been marketed to farmers, and on farm production of these forage soybeans is now a reality. It is estimated that over 10,000 acres of Donegal soybeans were planted in the Northeast in 2001. An estimated 7,000 acres of Tyrone were planted in 2001. Based on the acreage planted for seed increase in 2001, the acreage of forage soybean production is expected to double in 2002. At this point, the only factor limiting expansion of the use of this technology is the biological capacity to increase seed. Harold Tabor, the product manager for many years with Southern States Cooperative in Richmond, Virginia described himself as ?aastounded? by the demand for the seed of Tyrone soybean. Dr. Devine continues to follow-up with assistance to farmers and extension workers in providing guidance and advice on the use of forage soybeans.

8. Leveraging

Intriguing and valuable spin-off potentials for these cultivars are under study. These cultivars have been used as parental lines for hybridization to produce tall growing grain type cultivars with enhanced production of crop residue. Crop residue reduces soil erosion. Our soils are a precious natural resource and soil conservation is of critical long-term significance for the survival of our civilization.

Other hybridizations have been made to generate large-seeded vegetable type soybeans of exceptionally tall height. Promising segregates from these hybridizations provide marketable large sized seeds for use as fresh green vegetable crop (similar to peas) for direct human consumption, while the remainder of the plant is useful as a green forage for sheep, goats or other livestock. Such soybeans will be of particular value to farmers practicing diversified agricultural enterprises on small acreages. The three soybean cultivars are also of value to farmers for use as a green manure crop to improve soil quality. After vigorous vegetative growth, a green manure crop is plowed under the soil and allowed to decompose. Decomposition of this vegetation adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil improving the physical and chemical properties of the soil for subsequent crops.

Soybean straw is useful for the manufacture of particleboard and paper. The enhanced production of straw by cultivars derived from the forage soybean provides an opportunity for increasing farm income from sale of the straw (valued at $50 per ton) while providing valuable material for manufacture of paper and particleboard. This contribution to industry would be especially valuable in regions of the country where forests are not available.