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Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster; Activity 5: “Short season soybean improvement”

Principal Investigator: Elroy Cober

Research Institution: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Timeline: April 2013 – March 2018


  • Develop high yielding soybeans adapted to maturity group (MG) 000 to 0.
  • Develop lines with specialty traits including moderate to high protein, isoflavone levels to serve market requirements, high gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and low cadmium accumulation.
  • Develop tests to measure tofu texture in silken and pressed tofu, protein solubility, and components isoflavones and GABA.
  • Develop tests to identify resistance to Pythium and Phytophthora root rots.


  • Enhancing disease resistance of food type soybeans to soybean cyst nematode, white mold and various types of root rot provides Canadian producers with a competitive advantage in the global market.
  • Aid in the expansion of Canadian specialty soybean production by developing soybean varieties adapted to short season growing areas and which feature stress tolerance and pest resistance traits.

Scientific Summary:

Soybeans are an important Canadian crop, grown from Alberta to the Maritimes, with approximately one third of soybeans destined for value-added, food grade export markets. Regions with short growing seasons provide the opportunity to expand soybean production across the country.

End use function traits are a critical component for the success of soybean varieties for premium export markets in Asia, but diseases pose a significant constraint to soybean production in Canada. Soybean cyst nematode, white mold, root rots caused by Phytophthora, Pythium, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia, plus Phomopsis seed decay cause yield losses of more than 30% in years with significant disease pressure. Enhancing disease resistance of food type soybeans to root rots will bring new opportunities for farmers in eastern and western Canada to grow specialty soybeans.

It’s important to continue developing soybean varieties adapted to short season areas of Canada that combine specialty traits (food grade export market quality) with stress tolerance and pest resistance in an agronomically-competitive variety. Improving food type soybeans for short season areas of Canada will allow for the expansion of specialty soybeans, provide greater market access for growers, and improve Canada’s competitiveness in the global market.


Variety development:

Nine new soybean varieties developed through the project were picked up by seed companies for commercialization in the identity preserved (IP) market. All the varieties are suited for food, soy milk or tofu export markets in Asia or Europe.  

  • 3 early season, special quality white hilum varieties
  • 3 natto varieties
  • 2 high protein, food grade varieties
  • 1 edamame variety

For the 2018 season, the project is expected to release one new natto variety to the industry.

Tofu quality:

The project validated a small-scale tofu test to test firm tofu for texture. The Harrow research station carries out larger scale testing and its protocol for tofu testing is considered the industry standard for the export market. As part of this research project, researchers worked with Harrow to ensure comparable results were achieved with the small-scale testing. Miniaturizing the tofu texture test – which involves making tofu from the soybean variety and testing the texture for export quality – allows researchers to test more experimental lines.

Disease resistance:

Root rots are very weather dependent and often manifest as dead plants throughout the season, causing yield but not quality losses.

Researchers updated information on the races of Phytophthora root rot in Ontario fields and discovered race 25 has become the predominant race in Ontario. They also found that race structures in Ontario fields have become more complex than when they were last surveyed 10 years ago.

Since there are single genes responsible for resistance to a few races of Phytophthora, it’s important to know which race is prevalent in fields so that the information can be used by breeders when picking parents to develop new soybean varieties. This helps ensure that the disease resistance genes in the soybean varieties are effective against the pathogen races present in farmers’ fields. The resistance information identified in this project is now publicly available for soybean breeders to use in their breeding programs.

Existing methods for detecting Phytophthora from soil samples were successfully adapted but require more work to be able to quantify the actual pathogen load in the soil.


Two new lines were commercially licensed to industry partners – OT13-04 high protein soybean to Bramhill Seeds, marketed as AAC Invest 1605 for MG 00, and OT13-09 natto soybean to Hensall District Coop marketed as AAC Hensatto for MG 00.

A very early maturing variety (AAC Edward MG 000) was also released to SeCan during the project and has adapted well and is even being grown in Saskatchewan.

External Funding Partners:

This research activity was part of the Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster led by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA).

Funding for this project was provided in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) AgriInnovation Program and in part by CFCRA members. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Related Publications:

Cober, E.R., and Morrison, M.J. 2015. Genetic improvement estimates, from cultivar x crop management trials, are larger in high-yielding cropping environments. Crop Science 55:1425-1434.

Cober, E.R., Curtis, D.F., Stewart, D.W., and Morrison, M.J. 2014. Quantifying the effects of photoperiod, temperature and daily irradiance on flowering time of soybean isolines. Plants 3(4):476-497.

Cober, E.R., Molnar, S.J., Rai, S., Soper, J.F., Voldeng, H.D. 2013. Selection for cold tolerance during flowering in short-season soybean. Crop Science 53:1356-1365.

Eskandari, M., Cober, E.R., Rajcan, I. 2013. Genetic control of soybean seed oil: II. QTL and genes that increase oil concentration without decreasing protein or with increased seed yield. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 126:1677-1687.

Eskandari, M., Cober, E.R., Rajcan, I. 2013. Genetic control of soybean seed oil: I. QTL and genes associated with seed oil concentration in RIL populations derived from crossing moderately high-oil parents. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 126:483-495.

Eskandari, M., Cober, E.R., Rajcan, I. 2013. Using the candidate gene approach for detecting genes underlying seed oil concentration and yield in soybean. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 126:1839-1850.

Kong, F., Nan, H., Cao, D., Li, Y., Wu, F., Wang, J., Lu, S., Yuan, X., Cober, E.R., Abe, J., and Liu, B. 2014. A new dominant gene E9 conditions early flowering and maturity in soybean. Crop Science​ 54:(6):2529-2535.

Marchand, G., Chen, Y., Berhane, N.A., Wei, L., Lévesque, C.A., and Xue, A.G. 2014. Identification of Pythium spp. From the rhizosphere of soybeans in Ontario, Canada. Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology 36(2):246-251.

Morrison, M.J., Cober, E.R., Fregeau-Ried, J.A., and Seguin P. 2015. Changes in lutein and tocopherol concentrations in soybean cultivars released across seven decades in the short-season region. Crop Science 55:312-319.

Morrison, M.J., Frégeau-Reid, J.A., Cober, E.R. 2013. Seed protein, soaking duration, and soaking temperature effects on gamma aminobutyric acid concentration in short-season soybean. Crop Science 53:2563-2568.

Tinker, N.A. and Cober, E.R. 2016. Plant Breeding. In Stewart, J.C.N. (ed.) – Plant Biotechnology and Genetics: Principles, Techniques and Applications, 2nd edition, Wiley-Blackwell.

Xue, A.G., Marchand, G., Chen, Y., Zhang, S., Cober, E.R., Tenuta, A. 2015. Races of Phytophthora sojae in Ontario Canada, 2010-2012. Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology 37:376:383.

Zhang, J.X. and Xue, A.G. 2014. Evaluation of soybean cultivars for resistance to Phomopsis longicolla and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum using excised leaves. Canadian Journal of Plant Science​ 94(5):955-961.

Zhang, J.X., Xue, A.G., Cober, E.R., Morrison, M.J., Zhang, H.J., Zhang, S.Z., and Gregorich, E.G. 2013. Prevalence, pathogenicity and cultivar resistance of Fusarium and Rhizoctonia species causing soybean root rot. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 93(2):221-236.