While the nutrient value of soybean meal is often set at a standard, the feed ingredient may actually be quite variable, depending on the region where the crop was grown, how the crop was processed and which genotypes were grown, according to research highlighted over the years in Feedstuffs, particularly by poultry nutrition columnist Dr. William Dudley-Cash.
To help improve soybean crop resiliency and protein levels, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) recently awarded a $942,000 Seeding Solutions Grant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), alongside scientific partners North Carolina State University and VIB (Institute for Biotechnology) in Flanders, Belgium. The FFAR grant was matched with funding from Benson Hill Biosystems, BASF and VIB for a total award of $1.89 million.
“Our research demonstrates that the response of soybean protein content to temperature varies among different genetic varieties,” said Dr. Anna Locke with ARS and the principal investigator on this project. “Using deep learning techniques, we can analyze the effects of weather variability on soybean yield and protein production and work to develop high-protein varieties that can withstand the stresses associated with changing climates.”
Soybean meal is a complete source of protein that contains the essential amino acids necessary for animal and human nutrition. FFAR said soybean meal demand is projected to grow as animal- and plant-based protein demand increases worldwide, and this demand surge is happening concurrently with global climate shifts and more frequent extreme weather conditions, including cold snaps and heatwaves.
Extreme weather is devastating to soybean crop yields and nutritional content, making it imperative that researchers determine how to increase soybean resiliency in response to climate change, FFAR said.
Locke, co-principal investigators Dr. Ive De Smet with VIB and Dr. Ross Sozzani with North Carolina State and their team will use advanced machine learning algorithms — Benson Hill’s CropOS computational platform — to leverage the natural genetic diversity of plants and improve the sustainability, nutrition and flavor profiles of the soybean crop with greater precision than previously possible, FFAR said. The researchers will also evaluate key temperature stress regulators, develop a test to rapidly screen soybean genotypes for enhanced resilience to temperature stress and, ultimately, provide data that will allow crop breeders to identify new abiotic stress-tolerant soybean varieties more efficiently.
“FFAR is excited to support this groundbreaking research that will increase our understanding of the relationship between a soybean plant’s genetic makeup, its environment and its performance,” FFAR executive directory Sally Rockey said.