Innovative Growers, a specialty grain supply network in Iowa, has taken a page from both science and industry in its approach to contract grain production.

The grower-members, now about 40 strong, have teamed with specialists from Iowa State University to lessen the bumps along the development road.

Some members have also adopted a worldwide quality control system used heavily by industry, which is new for agriculture.

Their mission: To increase farmer-members' profitability by building long-term relationships with seed companies, processors, end users and others, according to Jim Jensen, Iowa State University extension field crop specialist at Mt. Pleasant. So far, the membership is focused in two areas, north central and east central Iowa, but plans are to take it statewide.

The farmers are going about the challenge of building the network in a methodical, professional manner, says Jensen.

“We're working on building track records and to get a solid base for our organization and our records. We want to show people who are looking for specialty crops that we have some experience doing it. We have a system that works and we can produce what they need,” Jensen explains.

Some grower-members have taken classes to become ISO-certified. ISO 9000-2000 is a quality system often used in industry, Jensen explains. It requires independent third-party auditors to periodically check records and procedures.

“Basically, it's a worldwide quality assurance program that's accepted in more than 100 countries,” he notes, “and we're adapting it into agriculture now.”

To date, every member was trained on Iowa State's Crop Data Base Management System, now modified to handle specialty crops.

So far, the organization has garnered only a small number of contracts, but members see more profit down the road for its extra effort.

“There may be years at the beginning when results will be pretty average,” admits Bill Northey, Innovator Growers president and a Spirit Lake, IA, corn-soybean grower. “But over time, you hopefully develop something that rewards all parties with a higher net return.”

Northey definitely feels the group can accomplish things that an individual grower couldn't. With ISU help and the record system, it will know, for example, what the yield drag on food-grade specialty corn and soybeans will be. It won't have to take somebody's word about potential yield drag, which can reduce premiums garnered.

“There are lots of things to put together, and it's not easy to make it happen,” Northey admits. “We know there will be bumps along the road, but we're optimistic that it will be worth the effort to pull something like this together.”

David Dvorak, organization vice president and a grower from West Liberty, IA, became a member because of what he sees coming down the road in ag production.

“Supply chains are forming as contract grain production becomes more prevalent, so we need to adapt,” Dvorak says. “I became a member because of what I see the ag industry coming to. Poultry went the contract route years ago, and the hog industry seemed to go that way almost overnight. So I think the handwriting is on the wall for grain production.”

For more information, call Jensen at 319-385-8126.