The soybean season hasn’t yet started in NC, but in Puerto Rico, it is going strong. Puerto Rico is used by many public and commercial breeders as an off-season nursery. This provides breeders the opportunity to get one (or two) additional crops in each season which helps speed up the variety development process.
Developing a soybean variety takes anywhere from 8-10 seasons of soybean production. With only one season a year, this would take 10 years. With the use of a winter nursery during North Carolina’s off-season (November through April), they time can be reduced to 6 years.
The North Carolina Soybean Producers Association has been supporting breeding efforts at NC State for many years. Part of that support includes funding for space at the USDA winter nursery in Puerto Rico. The NC State winter nursery was initiated over 40 years ago and all varieties released in NC have an important stop in the Puerto Rico nursery. While the USDA soybean breeding program at NC State only uses about 5 acres in Puerto Rico, it is some of the most valuable real estate they have. The nursery is indispensable to the breeding progress because of the sunny days and frost-free winter.
Last week, a team of NCSPA directors and staff along with NCSU faculty traveled down to Puerto Rico to learn more about the variety development process and the importance of the winter nursery. In addition to the USDA station, the group also got to visit the winter nurseries of Bayer and Pioneer.
One of the interesting parts of the trip was seeing the artificial lighting that is used in the fields. Day length during the growing season is much shorter in Puerto Rico than it is during the summer in the US. The short days cause the plants to flower too early, and only grow about a foot tall. ‘Wal-Mart parking lot’ style lights are therefore used to simulate longer days so the plants grow to a normal height.
In the next few weeks, seeds will be harvested, cleaned, inspected, and boxed to ship back to NC where they will be prepared for spring planting.
Our delegation had a great time learning more about the soybean breeding cycle. Since the growing season never ends in Puerto Rico, we got to see planting, growing, and harvesting! We also had the chance to learn a little about tropical crops while we were there. We saw cacao trees and fruit (chocolate) and plantain trees. See more pictures from our trip below.