West Lafayette, Ind. A Purdue University agronomist is testing a polymer-coated soybean that could allow farmers to squeeze two crops into the same field in a single season.
Tony Vyn said the biodegradable polymer seed coating permits farmers to sow soybeans between rows of standing wheat in late spring, when wheat is less vulnerable to trampling by machinery.
The coating delays soybean germination for about two weeks, a period that accommodates the wheat harvest and leaves enough time for soybeans to produce a good yield before a killing frost.
"The coating system is quite exciting," Vyn said. "It offers quite a few opportunities for farmers."
More southerly climates, including Purdue's southern Indiana, already allow for a crop of wheat followed by soybeans.
But Vyn predicts the coated soybeans could help producers as far north as Michigan and Wisconsin squeeze crops of both wheat and soybeans into their short growing seasons.
Vyn said that not only would wheat and soybeans in a single field protect soil and slow diseases, it would boost farm income by $50 an acre.
The polymer shields the seed from moisture and delays germination until the polymer absorbs a preset amount of heat from the soil. Vyn is working with delays of eight, fifteen and 25 days.
Some Indiana farmers are intrigued by the double-crop idea.
"That's an innovative idea," said Clayton farmer Ben Edmondson. "It's the kind of information farmers need to keep thinking about."
Edmondson used to raise double-crop wheat and soybeans southern-style, but he quit about a decade ago because of poor wheat prices and the risk of soybeans being bit by frost.
If the polymer proves commercially viable, Edmondson is interested in trying it.
Landec Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., developed the polymer coating and retains the proprietary rights to the technology. Intellicoat Products, the Monticello-based marketing arm of Landec, will begin selling the coated seeds in 2002, said product manager Alan Barbre.
Landec announced in early August that it will build a coating facility in West Lebanon, Ind., near Danville, Ill.
Intellicoat is considering coating seeds with a thin layer of insecticides that would cut costs and be more environmentally friendly.
Vyn, who is conducting the research on behalf of Intellicoat, thinks wheat acreage could double in central and northern Indiana over 10 years, to about 1 million acres.
Intellicoat expects the coating to be received in agricultural markets outside the so-called wheat and soybean relay, as well, with corn as the largest.