Non-GM Beans Gain Ground

What’s old is new again: Cheaper seed and lucrative premiums are driving more crop producers to plant non-genetically modified (GM) soybeans this year.

U.S. soybean production is 95 percent dominated by genetically modified Roundup Ready soybeans. However a small percentage of that crop — perhaps 5 percent — will be planted to non-GM soybeans, and the trend toward the latter is expected to continue in the near future, says Jim Beuerlein, Ohio State University Extension agronomist.

"Roundup Ready soybean seed is becoming expensive and there are a number of markets, both stateside and internationally, that want non-GM varieties and they are willing to pay the premiums for it," Beuerlein says. "So with premiums more than $1 per bushel, that’s $50 in extra income per acre, and non-GM seed has been historically cheaper than Roundup 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 percent. But with 4.5 million acres of soybeans planted in Ohio each year, the increase is not earth shattering. The reason, said 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 Roundup Ready varieties for so long and there wasn’t a big demand for non-GM seed," he said. "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-GM varieties are expected to increase their seed production 100 percent, perhaps 200 percent, 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-GM soybean varieties that are not patented or if the seed laws allow that activity.

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