Soybeans are an important staple of Virginia agricultural exports and are among the top five crops exported to markets overseas. In the last agricultural census, soybeans were also the top revenue-generating crop with more than $300 million in sales.
The lucrative Virginia crop is sought out as far away as Japan, where fermented soybeans are eaten as a breakfast item called natto.
Hillary Mehl, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, is working to keep Virginia a sustainable, soybean-producing powerhouse.
Mehl conducts research at Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk and works to better understand fungicides and their role in cultivating soybeans in the commonwealth.
“Part of our work at the AREC is looking at fungicide resistance in row crops, including soybeans,” said Mehl.
Recently she has been researching fungicide resistance of a disease that threatens soybeans, called frogeye leaf spot. The fungus creates brownish circular spots on leaves that can turn into large patches of blight.
She also collects weather-based information that allows her to determine the most optimal time for her constituents to apply fungicides.
“Ultimately this research will allow growers to forgo fungicide applications when they are not needed, which is good for the environment, and optimize application timings when they are needed to protect yield and farmer profits,” said Mehl.
Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science Michael Flessner is helping Virginia farmers by investigating how to control weeds before they become a problem at harvest.
Soybeans are a major crop in both Virginia and North Carolina, but money spent on weed control is choking out about $40 million of profits per year for farmers in each state.
A collaborative grant between Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University seeks to eradicate weeds such as Italian ryegrass, wild radish, common ragweed, and Palmer amaranth that are common to both states. The grant money is being focused on environmentally friendly ways to control weeds that won’t contribute to herbicide resistance.
“Herbicide resistance prevalent in our region is just shy of doubling the weed control costs of production,” said Michael Flessner, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science and Extension specialist. “This is a way to not only combat the weeds, but to also keep the problem from becoming worse,” said Flessner.
Flessner estimates it costs farmers in the region an additional $60 to $100 per acre to hand-pull the weed Palmer amaranth in infested fields.
He is working in conjunction with Wes Everman, assistant professor of crop science at North Carolina State University, to research the effects of destroying the seed by crushing it at harvest or by carrying away the postharvest residue, thereby taking the seeds out of the cropping system before they become a problem in the field.
Research at the University of Arkansas is already showing promise using these methodologies. One study reduced the time required to hand-pull weeds from 205 man-hours to six man-hours over a period of just two years.