Arkansas Soybean Producers Invest in New Breeder

There’s a new soybean breeder in town and he’s ready to use the resources of the past and present to produce yield-boosting Group IV varieties for the future of Arkansas Soybeans. After eight years away, Dr. Leandro Mozzoni returns to the University of Arkansas and takes charge of the long-standing breeding program.

14 years ago, in the fall of 2003, Leandro Mozzoni left Argentina and arrived at the University of Arkansas as a graduate student studying agronomy and crop science. He spent the next six years in the university’s breeding program before heading to Nebraska with his Ph.D. to work as a soybean breeder in the private sector.

In 2017, Dr. Mozzoni took advantage of an opportunity for him and his family to return to the University of Arkansas’s Division of Agriculture as its new soybean breeder.

Dr. Mozzoni’s return gives Arkansas’s soybean producers home field advantage as he brings his experiences in the private sector.

“The biggest opportunity of this role is to interact more closely with farmers and the consumer of our seeds, and the chance to train new grad students,” Dr. Mozzoni said.

Spending six years in the university’s program as a student gives him an upper hand when taking advantage of the resources available, like the 45 years’ worth of pedigree information he considers critical and underutilized. In order to breed new varieties of soybeans, Mozzoni and his team need all the DNA information available to help guide their decisions moving forward. His prior knowledge of the program also provides him with an understanding of what research his team needs to conduct.

With a large amount of Group V materials, Dr. Mozzoni is transitioning his team to take advantage of the growing need for Group IV varieties. Since breeding is a long-term commitment and he needs quick results, they are looking at winter nurseries and opportunities to send materials to South America and Costa Rica.

A key portion of the research funded by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board is germplasm enhancement, which helps breeders combat the narrowing of source materials and increase diverse results.

Another area of research funded by Arkansas soybean producers’ checkoff dollars is flood research. Dr. Mozzoni and his team will look for varieties that can prolong how long plants can survive in standing water.

Dr. Mozzoni’s plan for the shape of the program by 2020 includes more molecular, genomic and pedigree information incorporated into developing new varieties. However, he does not believe this information can replace work in the field but complement it to get better-informed results.

“The worst thing you can do is just close your eyes and trust a computer or trust one of these machines,” Dr. Mozzoni said. “You need to be out there and seeing what the farmer sees.”