Developing research tools and genetic resources to make soybeans drought resistant is what U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research Geneticist Thomas Carter, Jr and his team do for the United Soybean Board (USB) (project 2020-172-0130). However, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic added a new disaster to the mix.

Because of the pandemic, university and USDA agricultural labs were virtually shut down, cutting off access to the big barns and automated equipment normally used to sort, count, and bag seeds for spring planting.

But since planting can’t wait, these researchers took seeds and packets home for more than 10,000 field plots, and filled them by hand from their dining rooms, back porches, and garages. Personal spaces were cleared, and filled with bags, boxes, counting boards and weigh scales. Paper bags containing a unique soybean genotype must be cleaned and screened before being counted and put into an envelope.  After each envelope was filled, it was stapled to prevent spillage, then placed in order in a cardboard channel box until it was time to put the envelopes in planting order.

But that was not the end. Since university stations were closed, special permission had to be obtained from university chancellors and the USDA, and new planting protocols had to be devised to cope with pandemic regulations. Part of these regulations were to limit the number of personnel that could be in the field at any one time. Thus, planting was slower than normal once they got into the fields.

In addition, from mid-May until the present, excessive rain forced plating in a ‘piece meal’ fashion as specific fields became workable, rather than planting an entire research station at once as is normal practice. Despite pandemic, rain, and other logistical difficulties, about 80% of the drought-tolerance yield trials and related nursery materials were planted in spring 2020.

This dedicated bunch from across Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, Iowa, Georgia, and North Carolina really went the extra mile, using the soybean breeding version of teleworking to achieve this remarkable success!

Co-Principal Investigators (PIs) on this project:

  • Zenglu Li, University of Georgia
  • Danny Singh, Iowa State University
  • Woo-Suk Chang, University of Texas, Arlington
  • William T. Schapaugh, Kansas State University
  • Pengyin Chen and Henry Nguyen, University of Missouri
  • Leandro Mozzoni, University of Arkansas
  • Ben Fallen, Kent Burkey, Anna Locke, USDA-ARS, Raleigh, NC