Soybean South


Breeding Program:
Building A Better Bean

Three Arkansas farmers and businessmen have expanded beyond their seed company
to include a seed research and testing program at the molecular level
as well as a biofuels plant and crushing facility.

By Carroll Smith

In 1981, HBK Seed Company opened its doors in DeWitt, Ark., and started selling soybean seed to area farmers. The Hornbecks grew the business into a thriving enterprise to become one of the Mid-South’s premier dealers of proprietary soybean products.

Today, the family-owned seed company operates under the umbrella of Hornbeck Agricultural Group and is opening doors to seed research and testing and biodiesel production. Worldwide SoyTechnologies, a division of Hornbeck Agricultural Group, is taking its research and development efforts to a higher level by adding an plant pathologist to its staff – Dr. Edward Boza.

Dr. Boza is focusing on disease screening, salt tolerance and crossing and breeding at the molecular level from the lab to the field.

In his disease research, the plant pathologist uses a marker assistance selection program to screen different cultivars of every generation of soybean varieties being developed in the breeding program.

“We have about seven or eight different races to screen from many lines of soybeans based on a set of differential cultivars,” Boza says. “For example, with Phytophthora Root Rot or Stem Canker this process allows us to see if the different lines in each generation are resistant or susceptible to these diseases. This is one aspect of the program.

“We are also in the process of buying equipment to put together the molecular map so we can use these DNA markers in the marker assistance selection program,” he adds. In genetics, a molecular marker (genetic marker) is a fragment of DNA sequence that is associated to a part of the genome.

“With that kind of technology, it’s possible to screen large numbers of samples for rapid identification of progenies that carry the favorable characteristics. In other words, what we have in the greenhouse and the field can be sped up.”

In addition to disease work, the research team is conducting salt tolerance tests in the greenhouse to see if the materials are resistant to different salinity conditions. The ones that are resistant are called excluders, and these are the materials they are trying to identify.

Advantages of markers
James Thomas, the director of research, points out that some diseases such as Soybean Mosaic Virus or Frogeye Leaf Spot – where there is only one gene involved – can very easily be screened in the greenhouse without using markers except as a check system.

“Once we think that a material has resistance, to prove we didn’t have any escapes, we can run a very simple marker that can tell us that the material does carry the gene we are looking for. Basically, the greenhouse screening and the marker give us two controls,” he says.

However, Thomas says it’s much easier to use the markers with a disease such as Soybean Cyst Nematode (SCN) where there are multiple numbers of genes involved.

“We can select varieties based on markers by two major genes and start screening for yield in a matter of a year where it might take five or six years to do it in the greenhouse with the numbers we have to work with,” he explains.

Dr. Boza points out that another advantage of the molecular markers is the consistency of the technology, which allows them to remove the environmental variation.

“Also the efficiency of the technology means the breeding program doesn’t have to carry all of the different lines to the end of the program,” he notes. “By saving four or five years, the breeding program is greatly enhanced.”

Increasing oil and protein
Another facet of the Hornbeck operation is the Arkansas SoyEnergy Group, which is in the process of building the state’s first biodiesel plant with an onsite crushing facility.

Thomas says the breeding program will be very valuable to this plant if they can increase the oil content or increase the protein in a soybean variety. In the past, he says, if you advance the oil, you start losing protein.

“There are some varieties in the USDA germplasm collection that have high protein as well as high oil, but they are undesirable as far as agronomic situations are concerned,” Thomas says. “With markers we can move these different traits into a very desirable soybean that growers would want to grow because they have yield as well as high protein or high oil.”

Is it easier to breed for maximizing the oil or the protein in a soybean variety? Thomas says it’s just as easy to breed for one or the other, but it’s more challenging to breed for both of them together.

“This is where the markers can really help out,” he says. “You can run the lines through a test with markers and identify those lines quite easily. Plus the time frame would be much faster than drying down that plant and running it through the normal process to find out what the protein or oil is. This would allow us to screen larger numbers and get those types that at least had high oil and high protein. Of course, this doesn’t assure that they will have high yield, so we would then have to yield test them to find out.”

After yield testing, Thomas says it’s possible that they would release a variety that’s within two or three bushels of what they would like it to be, but if the variety’s value is that much higher that it would bring a premium, that factor would offset the few bushels.

Arkansas SoyEnergy Group progresses
As Boza and Thomas continue at the molecular level to test varieties and breed seed to maximize oil for biodiesel production, the Hornbecks are staying busy with the construction of the biodiesel and crushing facility.

“Our plant will run exclusively on soybean oil and possibly canola oil down the road if we get that product up and available,” says Jon Hornbeck. “We anticipate test running the facility on June 1, but it will be a couple of months after that that we are in full operation.

“We plan on buying beans this harvest from local farmers from about a 50-mile radius and then be in full production late summer,” he says. “There will be some exceptions to this, but most farmers don’t want to haul their beans that much further because it becomes a freight issue.”

Contracts have not been offered to farmers yet because the facility is still under construction. “I was hesitant to book any beans yet because the last thing I want to do is be responsible for a farmer to lose the chance to get $8 soybeans,” he explains.

However, Hornbeck says that there is a more than sufficient supply of soybeans in the area to supply the biofuels plant.

The gallonage for the new plant is about 3 1/2 million a year, which translates to about 4 million bushels of soybeans. They will have a storage capacity of 350,000 bushels and will buy grain from other facilities and from farmers who have on-farm storage.

“We’ll crush the soybeans, then send the partially refined soybean oil to the reaction plant to make B100,” he explains. “So we have two different phases of our plant. We can sell the soybean meal as feedstock and glycerin, another by-product, to a whole different market altogether.

“Hopefully, when we get up and running, we are going to put together some package programs for the farmer that will include his growing the seed, storing the seed, pricing the seed and buying back the oil,” he says. “Our vision is to make this a full service location.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or

Experimenting With Canola Oil As A Source For Manufacturing Biodiesel

In addition to soybeans, canola oil is a promising source for manufacturing biodiesel. Canola was developed through conventional plant breeding from rapeseed, an oilseed plant with roots in ancient civilization, according to Wikipedia.

Although the Hornbeck brothers intend at this point to run exclusively soybean oil in their new biofuels plant, they are experimenting with canola, too. In their trials, pictured above, they have 69 acres of canola planted.

Half of these acres consist of an established, good winter line and half are planted to a new variety they are working on in partnership with Dr. Robert Bacon – a canola specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

According to the University of Arkansas, the university’s canola breeding program utilizes the Vegetable Substation to evaluate early generation as well as advanced lines.

Trials are conducted to determine adaptation to Arkansas and to provide cultural information for the crop.

Canola testing focuses on developing germplasm that has high yield potential, disease resistance and oil
quality parameters to meet industry standards.