If a Roundup Ready variety of soybeans might cost $65 to $70 a bag, and conventional, non-GMO varieties are $30 to $35 a bag, you would think farmers would be eschewing GMO beans. An agronomist with the Division of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas is planting nine non-GM soybeans on his test plots, four developed by the University. Here’s why. . .
U of A has been expanding its research into non-GMO soybean varieties because the cost to produce GM soybeans is rising, and the price a farmer can fetch for them once he harvests is falling.
Meanwhile, GM commodity prices are increasingly taking a beating as consumers in the US and other countries refuse to eat genetically modified food.
Agronomist Jeremy Ross began his trials last year. He planted the four soybean varieties developed by U of A along with two publicly-developed varieties, one from Virginia Tech and another from the University of Tennessee.
The first year’s trials were small because of the scarcity of seed, but this year, he had enough seed to grow conventional, non-GM soybeans varieties in five counties:
“…Lafayette County in southwest Arkansas, White and Prairie counties near the center of the state, Clay County in northeastern Arkansas and Crittenden County on the Mississippi River.”
“This spreads us out across the state.”
It also gives him a more accurate accounting of which non-GM soybeans will grow best.
The seed is cheaper, and in the long run will be better for farmers for the simplest reason of all: cost.
Since there are no proprietary fees (payments to Big Biotech for their patented suicide seeds) AND people pay a premium in many markets now for non-GM beans, farmers can make between .75 and $1.50 over the Chicago Board of Trade prices.
Ross explains why farmers are interested in switching from GM soybeans:
“The biggest reason, in the last year or so, is the demand for non-GMO beans for the poultry industry. Some of the companies coming into northeast Arkansas are starting the demand for chickens raised with non-GMO feed.”
On top of that – non-GM feed pays dividends. You can save seed from one season and replant it the next season, thereby eliminating your seed cost after the initial planting. You can’t do that with GM seed. Monsanto, Dow, and other biotech companies sue farmers for using their seed past its initial grow period.
And to sweeten the pie even more – the rise of herbicide resistant weeds such as pigweed has also been a big motivating factor, according to Prairie County Extension Staff Chair Brent Griffin:
“The resistance issue has really changed people’s mindset. There are seven glyphosate resistant weeds now and other weeds that are resistant to other herbicides.”
Griffin also reports that farmers in his county who have been growing non-GMO soybean varieties are finding they perform just as well as the non-conventional ones.
“They’ve been able to use conventional weed control to control the resistant weeds and still make 55- to 60-bushel soybeans . . . They’ve got their backs against the wall and saving on the technology fees, plus getting a premium, make non-GMOs a good bet.”
Hopefully this trend of going back to non-GMO isn’t too late. Many farmers have had to struggle to keep their non-GMO seeds due to cross-pollination.