In conjunction with the impending release of Bayer's LibertyLink soybeans, Ronnie Helms, independent contract researcher, has several interesting studies going.

“We're working with Bayer and Hornbeck Seed looking at three different varieties: the LibertyLink line, HBK4924 and Pioneer 94M80,” said the farmer and researcher with G&H Associates at the recent LibertyLink field day in Clarkedale, Ark.

“We're trying to stick with the same maturity groups, 4.8/4.9. Studies have been planted in Keiser, Weiner, DeWitt, Clarkedale, Cleveland and Hollandale, Miss. So, we're getting a big geographical area … with different planting dates and soil types.”

Among products being tested on the varieties are a plethora of Bayer's soybean products: Trilex 6000, Stratego, and Leverage. “Proline is another Bayer fungicide, a triazole (that can be used for) Asian soybean rust and (other things).

“We're looking at treatments by themselves and in combinations to see how these varieties respond to Bayer's portfolio of soybean products. In that, we're obviously looking at seed treatments and Ignite on LibertyLink beans as well as their products on Roundup Ready beans.”

While yield is paramount, “we know there is some plant health, or plant response, of soybeans to fungicides. We've seen this over the years with different germplasms and varieties and achieving 3-bushel to 10-bushel increases with little, or no, disease pressure, at all.”

Helms said keeping the soybeans greener for longer means “impacting metabolism and bigger seed.”

In the Stuttgart, Ark., area where Helms works, “there is a lot of rice and that means there are a lot of irrigated soybeans. We can push the beans with a good fertility program.”

When considering the economics with current bean prices, “one application of Stratego would cost about the same as a 1-bushel yield increase. There's a lot of interest from (farmers) saying, ‘I'm going to blanket my farm at R-3/R-4.’ Those are the critical growth stages that have been determined to be when fungicides have the greatest impact.”

Disease control isn't the target of the fungicide research but “a general, health/growth response application on beans.”

While there are advocates for the prophylactic/health benefits of fungicide applications, it should be noted that the Arkansas Extension Service does not recommend the use of fungicides unless needed to control disease already in a field.

“Something that's impacted those of us around Stuttgart is whether this can impact seed quality,” said Helms. “Can it impact the accelerated aging parameter of seed quality and germination?”

This year has proven growers need quality soybean seed. Helms, stationed in Lodge Corner, Ark., related the experience of a neighbor who has been forced to plant bean seed three times this season.

“Each time there have been issues with accelerated aging (AA) — a 95 percent germ and 45 percent AA. He went to replant and ran out of beans. There was a 4.8 here and 5.2 over there. And now they're replanting again. It's a mess.”

Hornbeck Seed breeder James Thomas is spearheading the company's LibertyLink research. “We're doing two projects this year. One is the work with (Helms) on plant health/yield tests with all these fungicide applications.”

“I want to clear up one thing about what fungicides do. For a long time, I've heard that fungicides keep the beans greener, delay maturity, (a bunch of things) that none of us like when we're ready to cut. We want that sucker so toasted, we want it to melt when the combine hits it. We don't want heavy crop to get through.

“What we're really saying is, ‘I want that plant to prematurely die. I want to cut it off about two weeks before it's fully mature.’ Well, if you want to make more yield, keep it alive. Let its normal physiological maturity (play out) and you'll have higher yields.

“That's what a fungicide does: it protects the plant so it can grow its normal lifecycle.” By allowing this, the plant “will fill pods fuller if it has water.”

In Thomas' yield trials, soybean growth has been exceptional. There are some early Group 4s in the test and the plant height is “amazing. The Roundup Ready varieties are also a good height so maybe it's just a good year for growth.”

Thomas is also working with Bayer on a systems test with 16 LibertyLink varieties and 16 Roundup Ready varieties.

“We're treating the Roundup Ready beans with Roundup and the LibertyLink beans with Ignite. That will allow us to see if there's any reaction between the herbicide used on a particular herbicide-trait variety versus the conventional chemicals used in the regular yield trials. Is there a benefit from using Ignite on the LibertyLink beans or do they yield the same regardless?”

Meanwhile, Thomas' major work is in soybean varietal development. Over two years ago, “we began making crosses with the LibertyLink trait, bringing it into (Hornbeck's) germplasm. We've maintained a fairly large conventional program while other companies were letting it go. So we automatically had a lot of high-yielding lines we could move a new trait into.”

Last year, Hornbeck made some 450 combinations. Those went to winter nurseries “for about two cycles. They're back in the field this year and, in the fall, we'll pull single plants. We could have 50,000 to 100,000 new varieties at the end of the season.”

Any that prove worthy of release are still three years away.

“We've still got to yield test them and throw about 95 percent away each time until we're satisfied those left have the yield potential to be competitive in the market.”

Thomas says currently Hornbeck is concentrating on 4.5s to early 7s in the LibertyLink technology. In last year's crossing cycle, research moved into the 3.5s.

“We hope by our material's launch, we'll be ready to cover all those maturity groups.

“Off and on, we've worked with (Ignite) for around nine years. I wish we'd have had it all those years. We'd have clean farms.

“Now, there are three weed species that Roundup does a lousy job controlling. We've had to go back to conventional herbicides to maintain. Usually, a plane flies on Reflex right before harvest because of canopied morningglories. But Ignite fries that stuff.”

With LibertyLink, growers will have “another choice, something that can control weeds that Roundup is having problems with.”

Thomas and colleagues have already learned some lessons with the new technology. “We put out our first (Ignite) application wrong. We were a little worried about drift and we lowered the boom and the (product) didn't go through the plants and get the other side. One side of the row was deader than a hammer and the other side was green. It's a contact herbicide so you've got to apply it to what you want to kill.”

Then, it rained. “We hadn't had a rain for 40 days but it did right then. By the time we got back to the field, (the weeds) were about the same height as the beans. For that application, we got the boom above (the crop) and the wind was right. We toasted (all the weeds). Ignite works but you've got to get it on correctly.”