For those growers who will plant conventional soybeans next year, weed control represents a whole new challenge. Still, it's clear that Roundup Ready beans continue to dominate the landscape in large part due to ease of weed control.
Trey Koger, Mississippi State University soybean specialist, says that weed control in conventional soybeans will require increased knowledge. “This requires us to rehab old-school techniques. We're going to be using the old chemistry like the Prowls and Duals.” He says heavy reliance on herbicides like Valor will continue.
According to Koger, Roundup Ready beans have allowed growers greater freedom and fewer weed challenges compared to conventional soybeans. Now, growers will need to brush up on weed identification and spend more time evaluating fields. With conventional beans, “It's going to be tough managing the weeds if they get too far along. I think we're looking at spraying behind the planter, using residual-type sprays, spraying over the top of beans and relying on herbicides like Prefix, which is a combination of Reflex and Dual,” Koger says.
While increasing costs of Roundup Ready seed and glyphosate have pushed growers to consider conventional beans, the true cost benefit is hard to determine. While growers may save as much as $20/acre in seed cost, they may get hit with higher herbicide costs. “When we put the pencil to paper, the numbers we see are about the same when comparing weed-control costs in conventional and Roundup Ready varieties,” Koger says.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT FACTOR is knowledge. “Unlike the Baby Boomer generation, young growers don't know anything except Roundup Ready. Most of them would have to brush up on the utility and pros and cons of a lot of herbicides. We can definitely learn, but it would take some time and there would surely be some hard-knock lessons learned along the way,” Koger says.
Koger adds that one advantage in Mississippi is the widely adopted early planting system. Planting early (early to mid-April) gives the crop a leg up on reaching canopy closure earlier and avoiding weed pressure in the growing season. Planting in narrower rows is another option.
Spraying glyphosate by airplane, which is a common practice in the Delta region of Mississippi, presents glyphosate drift challenges, or actually spraying the wrong field. “We can't tell the difference between a field of Roundup Ready soybeans and conventional soybeans,” says Koger, who predicts that 75% of growers who try conventional will eventually return to Roundup Ready beans.
Despite the weed challenge, growers like Morgan Beckham are willing to take the risk. With over 30 years in farming, Beckham will plant one maturity group on 200 acres: a 5.5 from Missouri. “I'll grow this year for seed,” he says.
He believes the seed cost differential is worth the risk and he knows how to manage the weeds. “I'll till, burn down at planting and put down a residual for grass and a broadleaf herbicide like Select, Assure or Post,” Beckham says.
He acknowledges a fear factor exists when dealing with conventional beans but also feels strongly about retaining growing options and restoring a strong public breeding program. Yield is still an unknown with conventional beans, yet this isn't deterring growers like Beck-ham who have the equipment and know-how.