Trey Koger, soybean specialist at Mississippi State University, uttered a telling statement in the fall of 2008.

“I've had more calls this past year for conventional soybean seed than I've had in the last 10 years,” Koger says.

Koger speculates that producer interest has increased for multiple reasons. First, Koger reports that seed prices for Roundup Ready soybean are expected to increase 15-40% heading into the next season. Next, the price of glyphosate has more than doubled and may triple by the 2009 crop season. “From a grower's perspective, seed and weed control (primarily glyphosate) are two of the biggest single input costs, so right away, they're putting out a lot of money,” Koger says. Finally, increased presence and pressure from glyphosate-resistant weeds is another reason for increased interest.

Some growers think if they have issues with glyphosate-resistant weeds and can't rely on glyphosate alone for weed control in Roundup Ready soybeans, they might as well plant a conventional variety — providing they can find seed.

Last fall, Koger and others began an organized effort to gauge interest on the part of producers and growers for growing and increasing production for conventional soybean varieties by inviting key parties to a projection and planning meeting held in Greenwood, MS. Among those who attended were Reuben Moore, associate director of Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES), Randy Vaughan, MAFES foundation seed and Bert Mann of Hornbeck Seed Company.

WITH MORE THAN 98% of producers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas currently growing Roundup Ready soybeans, foundation seed programs and private companies have practically abandoned conventional seed. “Our Mississippi State University foundation seed program last produced seed of one public conventional variety in 2003. Fifteen years ago, we still produced foundation seed of eight varieties. I estimate our conventional demand for foundation seed in Mississippi began to rapidly fall off about 10 years ago,” Vaughan says.

Tough questions face Koger and his colleagues. How serious are producers about buying conventional seed? Do conventional seed stocks need to be increased? With conventional seed such a small piece of the pie, can investment costs be recouped?

Looking at the 2007-2008 numbers, Koger says there has been a sizeable increase in overall soybean acreage.

In an attempt to quantify interest, Vaughan surveyed Mississippi's certified seed producers. By last December, results revealed enough interest to begin foundation seed production of a conventional soybean variety in the state in 2009. “After our initial meeting in October, a few of our certified seed producers expressed a serious interest in growing seed of the Missouri variety called Jake,” Vaughan stated in a memo to certified seed producers sent last December.

VAUGHAN REPORTS ALL parties were in discussions to reach an agreement, and says that he would like to speak with other Mississippi seed producers who are interested in obtaining foundation seed of Jake or another public variety for the 2009 planting season.

No doubt, the sluggish economy has played a role in certified seed producers' change of heart about growing conventional seed. What remains to be seen is if demand grows enough to re-establish foundation seed production.

“Preliminary evaluations of seed costs, projected prices for glyphosate, conventional herbicides and soybean prices indicate we can save approximately $20-25/acre by growing conventional soybean,” Koger says.

He notes that weed control plays a major factor in cost and that growers will need to brush up on weed management, identification and spray schedules to maximize benefits of a conventional program.