Farmer Perspective: Why I grow conventional corn

Seed Selection

My family farms in Mapleton, in southern Blue Earth County, Minnesota. We're proud that we're fifth generation farmers, and we're proud that we have a triple bottom line approach where we're not only concerned solely about our profit, but we're also concerned about the community and the environment.

Like a lot of farmers, we’re being pushed in a margin environment that is getting tighter and tighter, and it’s getting harder and harder to project a profit, to find a way to survive, to be able to buy our inputs at what turns out to be the best value for us. So as we look at ways to try to make our farms more profitable, there are a number of reasons for many farmers to look at their seed costs to save money—a big one for us was moving to conventional corn hybrids as well as growing on a production contract for non-GMO corn.

conventional corn test plot Minnesota Highland Family Farms
Conventional corn test plot being planted at Highland Family Farms.

1. Seed selection based on performance and cost

Five years ago, we were all about the national name brand seed companies. We wanted their newest products, which we thought were the highest yielding. There was little independent or third-party data on them, so the information that we got was almost entirely from the seed companies themselves. And we trusted that. But there was also a very high cost. At that time, we had a mindset of, "it's all about yield," it's all about trying to get the most yield per acre, and the seed price per bushel really wasn't even in our equation. We just thought that we should maximize production as a way to maximize profit.

Today we do things entirely differently. Seed cost and seed performance are two components that we look at together. We don't separate the two—we compare cost with performance. Because it's really hard to swallow paying premium prices for products that perform basically the same as products that are much less expensive.

Some of the cost associated with certain products provides services to us, and as farmers we’ve gotten used to not having the option of whether or not we want to pay for them.

It's really about our option of whether we want to have a relationship with somebody (or a company), and what we're willing to pay for that relationship. It’s also difficult to tell just how much we're actually paying for those services, and how much we're paying for the base product, and in this case, the base genetics, or the seed that's in the bag. We've looked at what traits perform and what don't. Most of the time, there was some additional yield, but the costs to pay for the trait, the actual return of overall profitability, was negative.

In many instances, we're able to buy corn for a per-acre-cost that is almost a third of what we were paying just a few years ago when we were buying fully traited products.

In fact, this year we are growing 100 percent conventional hybrids, and that is a value equation that we are employing on our farm. We do a little business with national branded companies, but most of the seed that we're buying today is coming from regional brands, because we've had better success, and better value, from buying the regional brands’.

2. Flexibility in weed and pest management

I'm a big supporter of making sure that traits are available for farmers to make the choice on purchasing them. But since we've gone to conventional corn without traits, we have been able to get what we think are similar yields, if not the same yields as the genetically modified crops. And yet, we're not having to pay for that additional protection, which I guess, quite honestly, we feel we haven't needed.

Seed companies have done a very good job of convincing us that we would be more comfortable with our cropping situation if we have the insurance of insect protection, for example. But I think it’s an individual farm decision as well, and there are certain instances, like with rootworm protection, where those traits make sense. We're currently planning for mostly a rotated crop, so we're planning for corn following soybeans, and we have a lower level of risk for corn rootworm. If I was to plant more corn on corn, I might be interested in trying to get more protection within the plant.

But in the case on our farm, as we transitioned away from corn on corn, and realized we didn't need as much insect protection, we also began to question the need for as much herbicide tolerance as well.

For weed control, we're able to get along without glyphosate and control any weeds that we've got in other ways.

Want more agronomic insights? Download the Conventional Corn Production Guide.

conventional corn production guide FBN
3. Local market opportunities

For us, the markets for conventional corn are the same as those for traited corn. We're in an area where we're very fortunate that we've got tremendous local demand from ethanol, from feed markets and from shuttle facilities to load trains for long-distance shipment, whether that be export or domestic market.

But while my local markets are strong for conventional corn, they do not offer a premium for identity preserved non-GMO corn. Growing on a production contract from FBN gives me access to a premium market that adds to my bottom line on top of the savings we received from reducing our seed costs upfront. (We also made the identity preservation process easier on ourselves and our older drying and storage system by planting only non-GMO corn this year.)

We are optimistic that we are going to have more and more opportunities to grow conventional corn hybrids with new genetics that perform well, offer a great value and help improve our farm’s profit potential.

Considering conventional corn?  Watch our recent webinar with special farmers guests talking about how it  works for them.

best practices when growing conventional corn webinar youtube play screenshot

 The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.  


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