Should you consider growing identity preserved specialty crops?
You’ve probably heard of identity preserved, or IP, crops—they’re not new to farming. IP crops are a great option for farmers looking to diversify and increase whole-farm profitability, but they take some additional production steps to ensure purity for the end user of the crop. So, should you consider growing them?
What are Identity Preserved (IP) Crops?
Identity preservation is the process of segregating commodities that require a specific trait or quality of the crop to be maintained from seed until it reaches the end market. Many farmers have been diversifying their operation by growing specialty or IP crops (i.e. food grade versus feed grade, or organic versus non-organic crops) for decades.1 IP crops are typically higher-value, premium or niche market grains/oilseeds/pulses and are produced with a specific end use in mind.
In its purest form, an IP crop program follows the production process from seed to end buyer. However, other specialty crops, such as pulse crops and edible beans require varying levels of segregated management practices similar to segregation protocols for an IP program. For this reason, these types of specialty programs are sometimes included with information regarding IP crops. Depending on the end buyer, IP programs may require additional documentation of each segregation step.
From high-protein wheat to yellow peas, there are many different IP programs available for various crops. These programs are designed with a specific end use in mind. Here is an example list of IP crops that growers may be familiar with:
Who Should Grow IP Crops?
Farmers interested in strengthening whole-farm profitability–rather than yield alone–should consider diversifying with IP grains and specialty crops. For farmers ready to get started, a willingness and flexibility to adjust current production practices is a good place to begin.
Depending on the program, companies offering IP crop contracts are often looking for a set of requirements, such as soil quality, on-farm storage capacity and acreage.2 There are other factors, such as geographic location and soil type, that can determine where IP programs are offered and for what crops.
The Identity Preservation Process
How are IP crops grown?
There are different management steps required for the various IP crop programs. IP crops must be segregated and protected from contamination to assure the purity of the product. The specific management practices for the individual crop will be dependent upon the program and/or contract obligations.
Crop quality can be largely controlled by important measures taken before, during and after the growing season that are specific to the IP, specialty or pulse crop being grown, from pre-planting and planting to growing season, harvesting, storage and handling.
While commodity crops involve grading of the end product, IP crop programs start with testing at the seed level. In fact, a system of standards, records and/or auditing will likely be involved throughout the entire production process.
- Field History
- Production/Process Documentation
- Truck Bills of Lading
- Scale Ticket Paperwork
- Field Isolation
- Equipment Cleaning (before each IP crop is planted or harvested)
- Production Based on Contract Components
- Field Inspection
- Value and Purity Monitoring
- Pre-harvest Inspection
- Equipment and Vehicle Inspection
- Testing the End Product
- Cleaning Storage Facilities
- Separate Storage for Individual IP Crops
Growing IP Crops on a Production Contract
Contracts and agreements are the bread and butter of an of an operation that participates in IP programs. While IP crops can be sold in the commodity market, in most cases, it would not make financial sense to do so. Producing IP crops without a contract exposes the producer to the possibility of not receiving a premium for the crops produced. Agreements may come in different forms–from buyer’s call to at-harvest delivery contracts (the most common), and in some cases spot contracts–and help ensure growers are getting paid for the extra time and resources that may be involved with growing IP grains.1
Let’s take this example profile of a farm operation in Montana growing durum, lentils, peas, canola and chickpeas on a production contract.
Risk and insurance
Significant risks are involved with any type of farming. Crop insurance helps alleviate some of those risks, but until recently, these insurance policies were not tailored to farms growing IP crops. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance policy. This insurance plan is tailored for any farm with up to $8.5 million in insured revenue. The policy was specifically developed for the growing number of diversified farms that tend to sell to direct, local or regional, and farm identity preserved markets.3
Some states and counties across the U.S. have also expanded the crops they offer under insurance policies. For example, certain counties in Nebraska now offer crop insurance for field peas and are expanding to include other pulse crops.
According to the U.S. Soybean Export Council, trends indicate that demand for IP soybeans (enhanced-quality or food-grade) is continually increasing, but U.S. production acreage is not meeting the demand.4
Other crops and programs are seeing similar demand trends. For example, U.S. consumer demand for organics has grown by double-digits during most years since 2000, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture set national organic standards.5 One should note, the majority of this organic growth is attributed to vegetables, rather than field crops.
In Canada, farmers are also working to meet the demand for traceability in food, fuel and fiber systems. From growing better barley for a Japanese brewery to high-quality wheat for a bakery in the United Kingdom, Canadian farmers continue to explore niche markets for marketing IP crops.6
What does this mean for farmers?
Make sure you are growing varieties that are sought after by processors. Find a reputable buyer, find out what they want, research the variety and make your decision. There is nothing worse than growing a high-risk crop that is difficult to market. But, there is nothing better than watching your investment turn into a high-quality, profitable crop.
— Beau Anderson, North Dakota farmer and chickpea grower
We chose to grow yellow field peas on our farm for the past three years to diversify our typical corn-soybean rotation. If you practice summer fallow or are open to exploring a multi-species cover crop, field peas are a crop that you should consider.
— Clay Govier, Nebraska farmer and yellow pea grower
1. Massey, R. E. (2002, August). Identity Preserved Crops. Retrieved from www.extension.iastate.edu/AGDM/crops/html/a4-53.html
2. Russnogle, J. Corn and Soybean Digest (2010, September). Will your farm fit the identity-preserved profile? Retrieved from www.cornandsoybeandigest.com/will-your-farm-fitidentity-preserved-profile
3. Vilsack, T. (2016, April 04). New Markets, New Opportunities: Strengthening Local Food Systems and Organic Agriculture. Retrieved from www.medium.com/usda-results/new-markets-new-opportunities-strengthening-local-food-systems-and-organic-agriculture-17b529c5ea90
4. United Soybean Board. (2008). Global Demand for Enhanced-Quality Soybeans Equals Premiums Paid to U.S. Farmers. Retrieved from www.ussec.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Identity-Preserved-Promotion.pdf
5. Greene, C. (2017, February). Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers. Retrieved from www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2017/januaryfebruary/growing-organic-demand-provides-high-value-opportunities-for-many-types-of-producers/
6. Canadian Seed Growers’ Association. Case Studies. Retrieved from www.seedgrowers.ca/
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