Biodiversity in Soya Beans

Changed on: 08.04.2019
Soya bean hull: ready to harvest
Sojabohnenhülse: abgereift

Soya beans are grown on an area of almost 924,000 hectares and are, therefore, the third most important oil crop in Europe, after sunflowers (4.3 million ha) and winter oilseed rape (6.4 million ha; figures provided by COCERAL). Austria is among the 10 largest soya bean producing EU Member States, with a soya cultivation area of about 50,000 hectares (2016).

These three crops bore little significance in domestic agriculture 50 years ago and were not at all or only marginally used in crop rotation. However, the same three crops were cultivated on an area of more than 100,000 hectares last year and -- together with oil pumpkins, winter triticale and durum wheat -- mixed up crop rotation sustainably on an area of over 200,000 hectares.


This does not only widen the diversity of individual species, but the diverse varieties also expand the genetic diversity of the soya bean. The number of varieties available to local agriculture has increased on an ongoing basis over the past few years, not least through breeding new varieties domestically.  

The current Austrian Varieties List lists 61 soya bean varieties with different characteristics. These varieties came from six different applicants who represent 14 local and foreign plant breeders. This season a total of 3,440 hectares of Austrian seed propagation area has been certified for 38 of these varieties. An additional 500 hectares have been certified by 38 EU varieties and breeding strains, which will result in the local seed material sector generating a turnover of more than 10 million euros through domestic seed material sales and exports. The extremely high propagation share of the varieties tested and certified under Austrian conditions reflects the importance of the local variety release. This ensures the supply of seed material for the increasing cultivation of soya beans in both domestic agriculture and that of neighbouring countries with similar conditions.

Soya bean: variety with dark hilum
Sojabohne: Sorte mit dunkler Nabelfarbe
Soya bean: variety with light hilum
Sojabohne: Sorte mit heller Nabelfarbe

Characteristics such as the colour of the flower and hilum of the seeds, stem/hull hairs, ripening period, susceptibility for diseases and shattering, as well as protein/oil and crop yield and, in particular, the regional cultivation suitability of these soya bean varieties provided by 14 plant breeders can be looked up in the Austrian Descriptive Variety List and the Variety Finder internet tool provided by AGES. The 10 varieties listed over the past two years come from five different breeders, with Austrian plant breeding companies being at least partly involved in the growing of seven of these 10 varieties. These 10 new varieties are based on 19 different parental components resulting in a composite index of 1.9 from a breeding perspective. The parent component index of all varieties currently listed in Austria since 1994 is 1.6. This stems from the fact that successfully listed varieties may be used for breeding new varieties as part of the plant breeder privilege. 

Soya beans are a good example for illustrating that a species not cultivated in Austria 50 years ago has widened the range of arable crops over recent years and has been able to establish itself as a valuable component in crop rotation. Furthermore, as legumes, soya beans are able to fix nitrogen directly from the air thanks to their symbiosis with root nodule bacteria. Thus, soya beans do not require fertilization with mineral based nitrogen as opposed to cereal crops, saving high energy-consuming production.

Austrian production of soya beans for human and animal consumption expands the local range of arable crops, together with other oil plant species, such as oil pumpkins, sunflowers and winter rape seed. The varieties tested for domestic cultivation areas differ in regards to their numerous parent components and characteristics. Therefore, the soya bean species is contributing to the larger diversity in varieties desired by the public for this crop, which is becoming increasingly important in European agriculture, in the longer-term.

New varieties by many different plant breeders featuring different ripening times, higher tolerances to fungal and viral contamination and, at the same time, showing higher yield potential, are contributing to making the supplying of the EU with guaranteed non-genetically modified varieties a reality. The breeding progress made in new varieties is an integral part in  achieving yield increases through more intensive agriculture that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Seedlings: just after germination
Keimlinge: Kurz nach dem Feldaufgang