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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Interest in Non-Genetically Modified Soybeans Growing

April 3, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cheaper seed and lucrative premiums are driving more crop producers to plant non-genetically modified soybeans this year.

U.S. soybean production is 95 percent dominated by genetically modified Round Up Ready soybeans. However a small percentage of that crop -- perhaps 5 percent -- will be planted to non-GM soybeans, and the trend toward the latter is expected to continue in the near future, said Jim Beuerlein, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist.

"Round Up Ready soybean seed is becoming expensive and there are a number of markets, both stateside and internationally, that want non-GM varieties and they are willing to pay the premiums for it," said Beuerlein, who also holds a research appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "So with premiums over $1 per bushel, that's $50 in extra income per acre, and non-GM seed has been historically cheaper than Round Up Ready seed to begin with. So we've got two things that are sparking grower interest: cheaper seed and the grain is worth more."

Beuerlein anticipates Ohio growers to increase their non-GM soybean acreage by about 10 percent. But with 4.5 million acres of soybeans planted in Ohio each year, the increase is not earth shattering. The reason, said Beuerlein, is because there simply isn't enough seed to go around to meet demand.

"There's a shortage of normal germplasm seed because we've been growing Round Up Ready varieties for so long and there wasn't a big demand for non-GM seed. We have just not been developing those kinds of varieties so the seed and the varieties are somewhat limited at this time," he said. "But seed companies that deal with non-GM varieties are expected to increase their seed production 100 percent, perhaps 200 percent, this year, so there will be a lot more seed available next year."

Additionally, growers may be able to keep the seed of some non-GM soybean varieties that are not patented or if the seed laws allow that activity. "One acre of seed production will plant up to 30 acres of soybeans the following year," said Beuerlein.

As growers prepare for this planting season, careful management of the crop should be considered, said Beuerlein.

"All seed is becoming much more expensive as traits are added and varieties are improved, so that dictates that we manage our seed planting operations very carefully," said Beuerlein. "We know that fungicide seed treatments will often increase emergence 10, 12, 15 percent depending on the year. Treating the seed with fungicide may allow us to reduce seeding rates and come out dollars ahead."

Beuerlein encourages growers to stick to the recommended seeding rates and not over-seed to help reduce seed costs. This may require more precise planting equipment.

"Growers should consider getting away from seeders that are not very precise in terms of seeding rates, and use a mechanism that picks up and drops one seed in at a time," said Beuerlein. "That way you definitely know how much you are planting."

Recommendations for ideal seeding rates are: if beans grow 40 inches or taller, plant 125,000 seeds per acre; for plants 30 inches tall, drop 175,000 seeds per acre; and for plants that are 20 inches tall, plant 225,000 seeds per acre.

He also recommends that growers space out the seeds in the row as accurately as possible. Growers can calculate this if they know their seeding rate. For example, there are 6,272,640 square inches per acre. Divide that number by, say, 200,000 seeds per acre, and you get 31.4 square inches of space per seed. Divide 31.4 by the row spacing, 7.5 inches for example, to get the distance between the seed in the row, or 4.2 inches. Divide 12 inches by the 4.2 and you get the seed spacing in the row, which in this case is 2.86 seeds per foot of row.

Other planting recommendations include: carefully handling the seed so as not to damage the growing point, located right under the seed coat; make good seed-to-soil contact; plant 1 inch to 1.5 inches deep; and finish planting by the third week of May.

"Maximum yields generally occur when we get everything in the ground by the third week of May." said Beuerlein.

Ohio growers can refer to the 2008 Ohio Soybean Performance Trials for non-GM and Round Up Ready soybean varieties most suitable for their growing environment. The report can be found at The number of non-GM varieties tested is expected to increase for the 2009 trials.

For future updates on the progress of Ohio's soybean crop, log on to OSU Extension's Agronomic Crops Team Web site at

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio soybean acreage is expected to increase approximately 100,000 acres for 2009. The soybean is Ohio's No. 2 field crop commodity, generating nearly $2 billion to the agricultural industry, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Soybeans are grown in Ohio for a wide variety of uses -- from grain to food to renewable energy production.

Candace Pollock
Jim Beuerlein