It's late August and southern beans are ready for harvest. But a steady rain hits when combines are ready to roll. It's a week or more deluge and beans are threatening to get mushy.

Some growers in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and other areas have suffered this problem more than once. What they would give for a bean with an outer coat to shield against the soppy situation.

“A hard bean coat is something we could really use,” says Ike Boudreaux, Lebeau, LA, soybean, corn and wheat producer who is also chairman of the United Soybean Board. “I'm glad some of our Louisiana soybean checkoff money has gone toward hard-coat research.”

Hard-coat research is in the next phase by Steven Moore, Louisiana State University soybean and corn breeder in Alexandria. He has worked with conventional hard-coated soybeans, but none that are in the Roundup Ready class.

“The conventional soybeans we developed using a hard-coated parent have been relatively higher yielders,” says Moore. “The hard-seeded parent handled wet weather conditions much better than varieties that didn't have hard seed coats.”

BUT WITH ROUNDUP READY technology, Moore knows growers want the weed-control qualities available in the latest varieties. And with Roundup Ready 2 just over the horizon, Moore hopes his breeding program can answer the challenge of developing an advanced glyphosate-resistant variety with a hard coat.

“I'm working with Monsanto to obtain a license to introduce the hard-seed trait using the new Roundup Ready 2 technology,” he says. “We should get a hard-seed line with Roundup Ready 2 technology for use this spring. I hope that we can develop a good soybean variety with glyphosate resistance using this new parent.”

Moore also hopes to breed hard-coated soybeans using GAT technology from Pioneer Hi-Bred and DuPont. Boudreaux likes the idea.

“The benefits of hard-coated beans can offset wet weather pressure at harvest,” he says. “We can easily see two weeks of wet weather and there's nothing we can do about it. Quality can go down in a hurry. The integrity of the pod is important to preserve in our efforts to produce a quality soybean.”

Moore says that when soybeans are exposed to wet conditions for too long, they can rapidly deteriorate in the field. “But with the hard coat, moisture is greatly restricted from getting into the seed,” he says.

The domestic natural food movement and the reluctance of some foreign buyers to purchase biotech soybeans — such as the glyphosate-resistant varieties that make up about 90% of the U.S. soybean crop — could create a niche market for conventional beans with the hard-coat characteristic.

“If there is a good enough price, the non-biotech market can work for some southern growers,” says Moore. “But the Roundup Ready technology still offers growers a big advantage. Right now, commercial soybean varieties for general production need to be in the Roundup Ready class.”