Keith and Brian Berns rarely get a day off in their corn, soybean and rye/triticalerotation. Their separate entity, a cover-crop seed operation, makes sure of it. But the diversified enterprises provide more overall profit potential in volatile marketing environments.

The Berns brothers no-till about 2,500 acres outside Bladen, Neb.; about 30% of those are irrigated. Some of both irrigated and dryland acres are used for cover-crop seed production, marketed through Green Cover Seed. The brothers’ company, formed in 2009, markets several lines of legumes, broadleaves, grasses and radishes, turnips and other exotic Brassicas.

 

A need for seed

“We started the seed business when we decided to use cover crops,” says Keith. “Seed was difficult to source locally so we started bringing it in. The seed business was a way to expand our operation to include more family members who wanted to be involved.”

The family’s second business now has more than 1,000 customers in 35 states and countries.

Brian adds, “We are starting to sell a decent percentage of our overall crop production through our cover-crop seed business,” Brian adds. “All of our dryland cereal acres for rye, triticale, oats and barley are going to cover crop seed. That’s probably less than 20% of our production, but we hope to increase that.”

Using a double-crop system means they can’t push for the highest corn yields, since it isn’t planted until June. The rye or other first crop in the double-crop system boosts their cover-crop seed production.

“This allows us to grow specialty crops, such as grazing corn, rye, triticale, oats, barley, buckwheat, vetch and others, and know that we have a market for it.

“To some extent, we are able to be price makers on these bushels rather than price takers on the commodity crops,” he adds.