Soybean growers can slash seed costs up to $10 per bag by buying public varieties. Certified public varieties are selling at $8-12 per bag. Conventional private varieties were typically running $11-18 per bag in early winter.

Many of the public varieties are top all-around performers. But there are no Roundup Ready public soybeans. "In general, public varieties have better tolerance to those diseases prevalent in the states where they are bred," points out Ohio State University soybean specialist Jim Beuerlein. "A good example in Ohio is Sandusky. It has excellent resistance to phytophthora.

"In yield trials, private varieties may outyield public varieties by 1/2 bu/acre," Beuerlein says. "But that is largely because the public varieties stay around longer due to their disease resistance. If you look only at the newest public varieties, they're about equal in yield to the private varieties."

Breeders of public varieties work under somewhat different conditions than do breeders of private varieties, explains Marion Layman of Layman's Seed Farm, Hidalgo, IL.

"They're not pressured to speed up the release of new varieties," he says. "That allows them to concentrate more on disease resistance.

"A good example of this is the level of soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistance," says Layman. "Public releases claiming to have resistance usually have full resistance to one or more races. Many private varieties tend to have only moderate resistance to maybe only one race."

What are some top public varieties for 2000? Layman cites several developed by University of Illinois soybean breeder Cecil Nickell:

* Savoy, a Group II maturity with high yield, high protein and phytophthora resistance.

* Macon, a Group III with outstanding yield and standability.

* Maverick, a Group III with high yield and resistance to SCN races 2, 3, 4 and 14, plus phytophthora resistance. It was released jointly with the University of Missouri.

* Rend, a Group IV with full resistance to SCN races 2, 3, 4, 5 and 14.

* Ina, a Group IV with resistance to SCN races 1, 3, 5 and 14.

Most of these varieties were developed with support from soybean checkoff funds and have been released within the past few years.

Layman also recommends IA 3005, a Group III Iowa release with good yield plus resistance to SCN races 2, 3, 4 and 14 as well as phytophthora.

Among other public varieties with good track records are Jack, a high-yielding late Group II with SCN resistance and a yellow hilum suitable for specialty markets in Japan; and Burlison, a high-yielding, high-protein late Group II that can be used for tofu production. Also, Dwight (Group II) and Pana (Group III), both high yielders with SCN resistance.

Public varieties for your area are available from independent seed companies and individuals. Check the yellow pages for a dealer in your locality. ?