Contrary to the impression you may have gotten from the media and the coffee shop, the world is still buying Bt. The world marketplace is willing to take Bt corn and its processed products, provided they have been approved by the importing country, points out John McClenathan, vice president of ADM/Growmark. Indications are that the world will buy Bt corn next year, too. Meanwhile, some customers are seeking corn without Bt or any other enhanced genes. And a few may pay a premium for generic genetics.
All this means you'll have more business and agronomic homework to do before next season. You'll have to look at what combinations of customers, genes and markets give you the best profit options.
"No one should make decisions based on emotion," says McClenathan. "A farmer needs to look at the economics of production. The new technology offers significant benefits, without question. You also have to look at the marketing alternatives. Talk to local markets and ask 'What are you bidding?' and 'Do you have any specialty programs for the export, livestock or processing markets?' You need to ask about these topics and chose what will give the best bottom line."
Some farmers feel threatened by the need to explore several corn markets. Others are looking forward to the challenge.
Among those accepting the marketing challenge is Leon Corzine, an Assumption, IL, farmer who is also vice president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. "The important thing is evaluating where my product is going and who my customer is," he says. "It's part of our business to determine what we're going to plant. This may take more communication with the buyers. We have to look at what the customer wants and at the possibility of a premium."
What the customer wants might include a label identifying whether a product is made from an approved biotech crop or from a conventional crop. Corzine sees no threat in labels and says they could help calm customer fears and improve acceptance.
"If the customer wants to know about a product, we should provide the information," he says. "For some of our customers, science has gotten ahead of acceptance. Maybe in the future they won't care about the label. But now there are too many unknowns for some customers."
Farmers could maintain market flexibility by helping write labels that avoid unrealistic standards such as 100% GMO-free.
"Let's develop some standards that let us put in what the customer wants," says Corzine.
"The rule of economics is always the final rule," concludes Elgin, IA, grower Ron McCartney. "The market has a lot to prove this winter. When the customer learns these products are as good if not better than conventional, then the premiums will fade. If the customers are out there who want non-GMOs, then I'll sell them to them."