In 2015, Chad Hornsby planted about 300 acres to soybeans with the now off-patent Roundup Ready trait, known as RR1. For this Brinkley, Ark., producer, it is a trade off of lost yield potential for lower cost seed. He estimates a 5-6 bushel-per-acre loss compared to the next generation RR2 trait seed planted to the other half of his soybean acres. He will plant the same again this year.
"I can use the money I save on seed to help fight pigweed," says Hornsby, who could have saved seed and replanted it this spring, but didn't. "I'll buy new certified seed again this year."
Saving seed for replanting was an option because Hornsby grew UA5414, bred by Professor Pengyin Chen, a soybean breeder at the University of Arkansas. The variety was released through the Arkansas Foundation Seed Program and grown out and distributed by Petrus Seed & Grain Co., Hazen, Ark. Had it been a private variety, other (non-herbicide tolerance) plant protection patents filed on it might prevent legal replanting.
Growers are advised to ask their seed supplier before saving seed.
While Chen suggests that farmers can keep seed without yield loss, it requires careful harvesting, handling and storage. "Germination, vigor and off-type can all affect the quality of saved seed," says Chen.
A good reason for UA5414 growers to not save seed may be Chen's continuing work in the area. While his emphasis as a breeder is in areas of disease resistance and ability to handle the abiotic stresses of heat, drought and excess moisture, he is about to release a second variety.
"We are still working to improve yields with RR1 varieties," he says. "The new one yields about 2 bushels more than UA5414"
Company president Robert Petrus noted that growers in 2015 reported yields from 59 to 73 bushels, depending on water and soils. Interest is growing in the public variety. Petrus reports fielding calls from the Great Lakes south to Texas and Louisiana.
Lower seed cost desired
"Word is getting out, and growers are trying to save money," says Petrus. "The problem is people to our north need group 3 and group 4 soybeans and ours are group 5.4."
Petrus isn't the only one getting positive feedback. Chen reports the Foundation Seed Program sold everything it had produced in 2015, as did at least two companies handling the new variety. "UA5414 was well received," says Chen. "It doesn't get the highest yield. However, it may be a good fit for marginal fields or growers stretched thin on inputs who still want a convenient weed management program."
Plenty of private varieties with the RR1 trait are available from regional seed companies like Seitec Genetics, Freemont, Neb., and global seed businesses like DuPont Pioneer. Both Seitec president, Dennis Bracht and Pat Arthur, soybean product manager, DuPont Pioneer, report keeping the trait in some of their best varieties. That hasn't stopped either company from making the transition to RR2 in other varieties or preparing for stacked trait varieties.
"Our decision to keep some varieties with RR1 is based on their performance," says Bracht. "We have a handful of RR1 varieties that have earned their spot in a lot of customer programs. Our approach is to maintain elite performing varieties."
Arthur also emphasizes that the varieties and how they perform matter, not the particular trait. Pioneer differentiates from RR2 by referring to RR1 as Glyphosate Tolerant. "Varieties we brought to the market with the Glyphosate Tolerant trait are some of our best selling products," says Arthur. "We call them local legends or rock stars, like 28T08R, 32T16R or 47T36R. They are all new in the last two years or less and in yield trials have had really outstanding performance, averaging three to four bushel yield advantages."
Few saving seed
While most varieties can't be saved, Bracht says saving seed is not an issue for his customers. "Even before Roundup Ready was introduced, less than half the farmers we worked with were saving seed," he says. "Harvesting correctly, cleaning, storing, conditioning and treating are just some of the complexities involved, and most growers, especially larger ones, don't have time to do it. We can deliver what they want the way they want it."
When it comes to advising his customers between high yielding conventional soybean seed, RR1 and RR2 varieties, Bracht suggests they not overthink the issue. "Just check performance data, and it is what it is," he says. "If you think a variety has the advantage for you, do a comparison and base your following year's decision off yields."
"It all comes down to how the variety yields," says Arthur. "Both the RR2 and the glyphosate tolerant trait have outstanding tolerance of glyphosate. Our customers have asked for both. In some cases they prefer RR2 because of the germplasm that it is in. Technology is advancing, and we are looking at the next thing on the horizon, like RR2 Extend. Our customers will dictate what they want."