Would $20+ soybeans or $10 corn be worth living without glyphosate or Bt – or virtually all weed or bug killers? The idea doesn’t bother certified organic grower Jimmy Wedel, who’ll take a few hoe-handle blisters for his niche markets any day. When he sells his non-biotech, low-input corn and beans, he sees prices near 40-60% over CBOT futures prices.
After 18 years of organic production, you could say this Muleshoe, TX, farmer uses old-style production to meet new age and beyond niche markets for natural food and fiber. Wedel farms 4,500 acres, all but 50 organic. “Organic farming became a business plan for me years ago and provides me a marketing advantage over conventional farming.”
A.J. Blair, Dayton, IA, has some organic and non-biotech corn and beans, but unlike Wedel, isn’t betting the farm on them. “We’ve had trouble getting the nitrogen right for corn,” says Blair, whose production is about 3% organic. “Up to now, all we could use economically was swine manure. We just put up a cattle feedlot to get some more nutrients for organic ground.”
He expects organic corn or soybeans yields to be lower because of typical Midwest insect pressure and the lack of Bt genes and an arsenal of insecticides. There are a few biological insect controllers, but nothing like what’s available from ag chemical companies. “There aren’t a lot of options, so you go into organic with assumption for lower yields,” says Blair.
He says the corn market hasn’t been that much better for organic in his region of northwest Iowa. “In the long run, organics might make more money,” he says, “but right now organic corn is only about $1/bu. more here.” He’s happy with the program he has for growing non-biotech seed for Pioneer and might add more acres.
The number of non-biotech specialty corn or beans is certainly higher. Mark Loux, Ohio State University Extension weed specialist, says that probably 30% of corn grown in Ohio is non-biotech, while soybeans are likely about 5% non-biotech.