As glyphosate-resistant weeds sink ever deeper roots into the Mid-South, farmer interest in conventional soybeans is picking up.

There’s been a “definite” uptick in conventional soybean queries, says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist, “especially in the last several years. The interest in conventional really picked up when the resistant pigweed problem took off.”

Roundup Ready crops — which, in the mid-1990s, ushered in an era of unprecedented glyphosate use and subsequent weed resistance — still have a good fit for some farms, says Ross. “But I’ve heard growers say, ‘Well, if I have to use conventional herbicides to control weeds in my Roundup Ready beans, why pay the extra money for tech fees? Why not just go conventional?’”

For the last couple of years, farmers that have grown conventional soybeans have often gotten premiums on delivery. However, that enticement may be beginning to play out “because enough conventional are coming into the market that companies don’t have to pay a premium.”

There are other upsides for conventional soybeans. “One is, with university varieties, growers can keep seed for use the next year. That saves seed costs. And if you’ve got to use conventional herbicides on your Roundup Ready varieties, why pay the tech fee? Save that money and use it later towards an additional fungicide/herbicide application.”

For more on conventional soybeans in the Mid-South, see http://deltafarmpress.com/searchresults/?ord=d&terms=grover+shannon.

Research

So, how does the cost of growing conventional soybeans stack up with genetically-modified seed?

“It’s safe to say that, compared to a GMO variety, you’ll spend almost the same amount on herbicide applications with conventional varieties,” says Bryan Stobaugh, a University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture researcher. “Resistant weeds have brought the costs in line. It’s true that you’ll add a few more things to the herbicide mix for conventional but you won’t be spending money on tech fees and the like associated with GMO products.”

Stobaugh, whogrew up on a central-Arkansas row-crop farm outside of Morrilton, came to his current work after becoming interested in genetics as an undergraduate student at Arkansas Tech. Working under Pengyin Chen, who oversees the statewide soybean breeding program, Stobaugh will soon earn a master’s degree and then begin work on a doctorate.

“I work with oil and protein so I’m very interested in seed composition. I like to say that with conventional varieties, the farmer has an option to break away from the norm — and break away from the resistant weed issue in the state. A large amount of grass and other weeds are simply taking over Arkansas fields.”

Through university and Extension research “we’ve seen that there are significant numbers of weeds gaining resistance and the populations are growing. There are over six prominent weed species that are now resistant.”

For more on weed resistance, see http://deltafarmpress.com/searchresults/?ord=d&terms=resistant+weeds.

Varieties

Stobaugh and colleagues “work to find soybeans with high-yield, high-protein oil content that is comparable to the GMO varieties on the market. And the University of Arkansas is producing soybean lines that are great.”

Among the university’s conventional leaders: Osage (5.6), Ozark (5.2), UA4805 (4.8) and a new release, UA4910.

UA4910 will be available to farmers in 2011. Those interested in securing seed can contact the state’s foundation seed program.

What are the characteristics of UA4910?

“UA4910 is a late Group 4 (4.9) and an indeterminate with white flowers and a light, tawny pubescence. Essentially, 4910 has taken the place of 4805. We’re still screening for the disease package — but it is showing signs of resistance to certain diseases.

“We work a lot with genetic diversity to improve yields, seed quality, significant disease resistance with characteristics for abiotic stresses (flood tolerance, heat and drought stress) and, more recently, salt tolerance.”

The research team has also released “quite a few germ plasm into the marketplace,” says Stobaugh. “Those include traits for high protein and other things. We use those … to cross back and develop other high-yielding/high-protein lines that farmers want. Farmers really want the high yield and high protein. Our research is really pushing for that with non-GMOs.”

The goal is to develop beans especially suited for Arkansas’ multiple environments. The researchers plant experimental beans “in seven locations around the state. That provides solid information on genetic/environment interaction.”

In the pipeline

Currently, the university researchers have soybean lines in the final process of testing. “Preparing a line is really time-consuming,” says Stobaugh. “It actually takes 12 years from the start to when it is in a farmer’s hands.

“By using a winter nursery, you can get it down to 10 years. That’s why we send second and third generations of promising lines to winter nurseries.”

The team is “making 190 crosses — different combinations — or more, a year. Several high-protein lines are in the pipeline. Others are showing real promise with abiotic stresses. There are lines in process that will come out shortly.”

The researchers are also looking at sugar and oil content in the soybeans. “We want to ensure we have the proper amount of sugars, oils and types of fatty acids. We’re looking for low linolenic, lower saturated fats and increased oleic acid. We’re looking hard at lines that could be used for food-grade oil along with lines for biofuels.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com