Cheaper seed and lucrative premiums are driving more crop producers to plant non-biotech soybeans this year.

U.S. soybean production is 95% dominated by biotech Round Up Ready soybeans. However a small percentage of that crop – perhaps 5% – will be planted to non-biotech soybeans, and the trend toward the latter is expected to continue in the near future, says Jim Beuerlein, 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-biotech varieties and they are willing to pay the premiums for it," Beuerlein says. "So with premiums more than $1/bu., that's $50 extra income/acre, and non-biotech 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%. But with 4.5 million acres of soybeans planted in Ohio each year, the increase is not earth shattering. The reason, says 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-biotech seed," he says. "We have just not been developing those kinds of varieties so the seed and the varieties are somewhat limited at this time.

"But seed companies that deal with non-biotech varieties are expected to increase their seed production 100%, perhaps 200%, 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-biotech 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," Beuerlein explains.

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

"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," Beuerlein says. "We know that fungicide seed treatments will often increase emergence 10, 12, 15% 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," Beuerlein says. "That way you definitely know how much you are planting."

Recommendations for ideal seeding rates are: if beans grow 40 in. or taller, plant 125,000 seeds/acre; for plants 30 in. tall, drop 175,000 seeds/acre; and for plants that are 20 in. tall, plant 225,000 seeds/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 sq. in./acre. Divide that number by, say, 200,000 seeds/acre, and you get 31.4 sq. in. of space/seed. Divide 31.4 by the row spacing, 7.5 in. for example, to get the distance between the seed in the row, or 4.2 in. Divide 12 in. by the 4.2 and you get the seed spacing in the row, which in this case is 2.86 seeds/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 1-1.5 in. 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," Beuerlein says.

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

According to the USDA, 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.