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Managing Non-GMO production

Specialty crops: more management for bigger potential profit

With growing awareness of GM-derived food, there's also mounting interest in non-GM crops. And If there's one thing Kyle Stackhouse has learned about non-GMO soybean and corn contracts, it's this: there's probably a good reason for a high premium contract. Yield drag, anyone?

Fortunately that's the exception, not the rule, says Kyle, who farms with his father Brad near Plymouth, Ind.  Most non-GMO yields are comparable to conventional. "If there's a $4 premium on those beans, better ask some questions," he says.  "If you have a good relationship with the company you're working with to secure those contracts, they will probably be straightforward with you about it."

Non-GMO corn premiums are generally 40 to 50 cents per bushel while non-GMO soybean contracts usually offer an added $1 to $4 per bushel. Most of the non-GMO corn goes to food uses. Non GMO soybeans can be for seed, export or specialty use, and domestic programs are increasing.  The Stackhouses also sell to feed mills.

Non-GMO contracts take a little more management, especially if you're also growing commodity crops. It starts with homework. Yield data can be difficult to find. You can plant your own test plots, or allow companies to plant research plots on your farm. Herbicide costs are higher, but often offset by not paying technology fees. When planting, equipment must first be cleaned out.

"We're careful when we select fields for non-GM, looking at weed pressures and where neighbors are in relation to those fields," Kyle says. "With corn we're trying to put isolated fields together in blocks or chunks."

Stackhouse tries to harvest non-GMO crops first or last to minimize time cleaning out combine and dryers. He harvests field borders and dumps that grain with regular GMO corn to prevent cross-pollination with neighboring fields. He has specific bins allocated for non-GM storage.

"Cleanout is an important management task, because we're always concerned about contamination," he says. That's because the non-GMO premiums are driven by the Asian market, so purity is a risk. The non-GMO tests are accurate to within 1%, "and they probe the truck like there's no tomorrow. If the test fails, you're headed home."

If you're looking for a non-GM contract opportunity, check here and watch for ads in farm magazines and newspapers.

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