In the classic old movie “The Magnificent Seven,” seven men come into town with guns blazing to protect the local farmers. Like the movie, seven farmers have worked hard to uphold a sense of fairness by providing an alternate market for white corn — for themselves and other farmers in the area.
This group of growers from southwest Iowa formed a partnership venture called Quality Iowa Maize to process and market white corn. It's going great guns — they've even purchased a corn processing facility.
The owners include John Askew, Richard McClure, Glen Stenzel, Mike Stenzel, Charlie Zanker, Jay Schaaf and Darrel McAlexander. They grow about 500,000 bu. of identity-preserved white corn each year and purchase additional white corn from other preferred growers in the area as well.
Why white corn? It has actually been a staple crop for Fremont County and the surrounding area for more than 50 years. About one quarter of the corn grown in Fremont County is white corn, says Darrel McAlexander.
“Our soils aren't as productive as those in Central Iowa so we have to look at alternative ways to earn premiums,” he adds. “We continually look for ways to increase our revenue and opportunities for growth in our farming operations.”
Premiums range widely for white corn — anywhere from 10¢/bu. to more than $1/bu., depending on the market.
According to the group, growing white corn takes a different mindset and farmers need to be financially rewarded to make sure it's done right. All farm equipment needs to be cleaned thoroughly before working in white cornfields. Also, growing identity-preserved crops generally means more use of separate on-farm storage.
In addition, white corn yields about 3-10% less than yellow corn, depending on growing conditions, according to the University of Illinois.
And what does the group do with the corn? A new experience for the farmers has been developing their own markets for the crop. “It's all in the relationships — we're almost obsessive — who can we sell to next?” says McAlexander.
“Developing markets takes a lot of time, but we can't quit,” says Mike Stenzel, who farms near Riverton, IA. “Either we continue to struggle or we get new business.”
Having its own processing facility is a huge boon for the cooperative because it can process the grain according to each customer's specifications, screening for size and density. End-use processors require consistent grain with few cracked and broken kernels, which the cooperative can control more effectively by processing the grain itself. White corn is generally used as an ingredient in masa, tortilla chips, snack foods and grits.
While running the processing facility and marketing the grain is time consuming for these growers, who also have farms to run, the men all agree that the situation works because there are seven of them to make decisions and divide the labor.
The co-op sells to markets in Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Texas domestically and overseas to Korea, Japan and the Philippines.