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  • Unconventional Ag

University of Arkansas Expands Non-GMO Soybean Research Platform

The University of Arkansas is expanding its research program on non-GMO soybean varieties as farmers increasingly turn to them as a way to gain better margins in the face of falling commodity prices and higher production costs.

Agronomists with the university’s Division of Agriculture are currently in their second year of field trials with plots seeded with nine conventional soybean varieties. Trials began the year before at the request of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, however the scope of the research began quite small due to the difficulty sourcing non-GMO seeds. By the second year, the team is monitoring plots in five counties across the state, and the team expects their trials to expand to 10 counties next year.

The recent increase in demand for non-GMO soybeans for feed, particularly from the poultry industry in recent years, is resulting in a premium of between 75 cents to $1.50 in some markets over Chicago Board of Trade prices. As commodity prices continue to fall, creating margins that are paper-thin, farmers are taking note.

Additional contributing factors, beyond consumer demand, are playing a role in farmers decisions to switch to conventional seeds. Weeds are increasingly becoming resistant to glyphosate, and conventional soybeans allow farmers to use conventional weed controls, which save money, while still realizing yields of 55-60 bushels per acre. In addition, the initial cost for the seed is cheaper – costing approximately $30 to $35 per bag compared to $65 to $70 per bag for GMO seeds, and the option to save seeds from a crop to use the following season is attractive to growers.

These upsides for the grower, plus a consumer market willing to spend money on it, are driving non-GMO soybeans beyond being a niche product.

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