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Idaho’s newest crop

Soybean test plot could change agriculture in the region

October 13, 2011

Writer: Writer: Stephen Henderson

Sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, and more fill an area of a few acres on a small plot of land in Rexburg. On the northern edge, an entirely different plant variety stands marked by wooden stakes and seed company logos. The research conducted here by one Brigham Young University-Idaho student could pave the way for a new crop in Idaho agriculture.

Student Joseph Davis and instructor Kevin Anderson survey their soybean crop, part of a research project now in its second year. "Right now, the only legumes that Idaho farmers grow in large quantities are field peas and alfalfa; fairly low-value feed crops," said Davis. "If we can get soybeans to grow here effectively, it would give farmers in our region another option for what they could produce."

Soy possesses numerous benefits. The protein-rich bean requires less labor to produce than alfalfa, and holds a higher market value due to its use in foods, textiles, the auto industry, and more. As a legume, the plant enriches the soil with nitrogen, an essential element that helps a farmer's crop rotation.

Davis and Anderson have partnered with Pioneer and Syngenta — seed companies trying to test plant varieties in a number of regions around the world - to see how well the crop will fare in the Rexburg climate. This summer, 16 varieties of the plant were tested, two of them performing very well.

Although progress has been made in effectively growing the crop, large-scale production is still on the horizon as testing continues. Davis will present their findings at an international agronomy conference in San Antonio, Texas, next week.

"Students usually don't get to touch research until the master's level, and overseeing research normally doesn't happen until the doctorate level. As an undergraduate student, this is an amazing chance to take the lead on something that may completely change agriculture in the region," said Davis.