Soybean breeder Cayo Canela Vieira joins an agricultural experiment station in Arkansas

Cayo Canela Vieira joined the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station as a soybean breeder in January.  He will teach plant breeding through the Dale Bumpers College of Agriculture, Food, and Life Sciences at U of A.

U of A System Division of Agriculture image via Fred Miller

Cayo Canela Vieira joined the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station as a soybean breeder in January. He will teach plant breeding through the Dale Bumpers College of Agriculture, Food, and Life Sciences at U of A.

Soybean breeder Cayo Canela Vieira builds a bridge from the past to the future at an agricultural experiment station in Arkansas.

Vieira plans to use advanced genetic tools to accelerate the development of new species with improvements such as yield potential, adaptability in wide environments and overall resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses.

In January, he joined the Experimental Station and now occupies the office used by his former mentor and advisor, the late Pengyin Chen. As an assistant professor in the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, Vieira will also teach plant breeding through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food, and Life Sciences at U of A.

“Arkansas has an amazing legacy of cultivar development and has a very popular program,” said Vieira. “We now have an opportunity to take this traditional program in a program that is very data-driven to maximize the genetic gains. If you can shorten the time to identify superior strains, you can potentially improve the genetic gains in the reproductive cycle.”

He said the time it takes to develop a new cultivar, seven to eight years, can be cut in half with modern “predictive breeding” methods using genome-wide molecular markers and advanced statistics. Plant genetic information is collected early in the reproductive cycle and then used to predict a trait of interest before it gets to field trials.

“The genetic base of modern soy is very narrow,” Vieira said. “We have a few genetically diverse accessions that form the basis of genetics in the United States, but we have more than 20,000 that can form the genetic basis.”

In plant breeding, a genetically diverse strain is plant material collected at one time from a specific location around the world. A set of genetically diverse accessions attempts to capture the genetic diversity available to a given species for further use in genetic and reproductive studies.

“There is a lot of genetic diversity lost during domestication and intensive breeding. I hope we can find and re-breed economically important traits that were lost during domestication,” Vieira said.

To achieve this, Vieira combines intuition with data analytics. He collaborates with experts in other areas of plant science such as physiology and pathology, along with statisticians and quantitative geneticists. Collaboration is an essential component of his work.

“There’s only so much you can do on your own, especially with breeding where you need a lot of data, which often has great interactions with the environment. The more collaboration you get, the better your projects will be,” said Vieira.

“Dr. Vieira brings experience, vision, and energy to soybean farming, and I am confident he will take our program to new heights,” said Jeff Edwards, chair of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences. “Soybean breeding is one of our largest research programs, and we are fortunate to attract someone with Dr. Vieira’s potential to our next generation of scientific leadership and innovation.”

Edwards said Vieira is “a great communicator and a great listener” who is eager to interact with Arkansas soybean producers and learn about their needs.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that his program will provide genetics that reflect the needs of Arkansas farms,” ​​Edwards added.

Soybeans are Arkansas’ top cash crop, valued at more than $1.9 billion and grown on more than 3 million acres in the state, according to 2022 Arkansas Agriculture Profile. Vieira has already worked on projects that address many of the problems Arkansas soybean farmers face, from disease and pest resistance to broad environmental adaptation and basic economics to improving yield and oil content. He was also involved in a study with Chen to identify soybean cultivars that are tolerant of non-target dicamba herbicides.

While improvements in yield potential and adaptations to environments guide soybean plant breeding goals, Vieira said there are also opportunities to improve consumer traits in edamame and natto soybean varieties by working with local farmers and scientists from other departments.

Vieira came to the United States in 2014 after completing his first two years of undergraduate studies at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, under the tutelage of Paledin Pinheiro. He taught for a year at the University of Minnesota and was a visiting scholar at Purdue University under Katie Rennie before earning his master’s and doctoral degrees in plant breeding, genetics, and genomics from the University of Missouri-Columbia, with Chen and Henry Nguyen as his advisors. Vieira was awarded a Monsanto Graduate Student Scholarship in 2018, was named a National Plant Breeders Association Borlaug Scholar in 2019 and was awarded a Corteva DELTA Scholarship in 2021.

To learn more about the Department of Agricultural Research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Department of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To find out about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit

About the Agriculture Division: The mission of the University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting authoritative research with the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, the Department of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the country’s historic land grant education system. The Department of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties of Arkansas and faculty in five campuses. The Department of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas offers all extension and research programs, services, and research without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or other legally protected status, which is Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer.

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