A Switch to Conventional

A Switch to Conventional

Lower corn prices prompt some farmers to cut costs by using fewer traits

When the price of corn drops, life on the farm is not business as usual. Tight margins mean tough decisions, and for some farmers, that means cutting costs. One way to cut costs is to use fewer or no seed traits. According to a recent Farm Journal Pulse of 1,064 farmers, 20% reduced traits and 13% said they switched to more conventional hybrids as their first step to cut seed costs this year. (To see the full results, click here.)

To reduce overall costs in a down market, Minnesota farmer Pat Duncanson planted 95% of his acres in non-GMO corn in 2015.

“I am a firm believer in technology, but for 2015, I didn’t find the value in it,” says Pat Duncanson, a Minnesota corn and soybean farmer. He budgeted to save $100 per acre and was able to save approximately $50 per acre on seed costs alone.

“We’ve been selling more conventional corn for the past four years,” says Mac Ehrhardt, president of Albert Lea Seed House. “The primary reason is lower cost of seed.”

Before switching to non-GMO (or conventional) products, analyze your fields and management style to decide if it’s worth your money and time. 

With defensive traits out of the mix, corn and soybeans are more vulnerable to pests. When you remove technology, it requires more planning, management and scouting. Familiarize yourself with conventional herbicides and insecticides in case you encounter a pest emergency.

“The best way I can describe it is to compare it to a toolbox. The more tools you have, the more quickly and effectively you’re going to fix the problem,” says Greg Kruger, assistant professor of cropping systems, University of Nebraska. “You should be out there scouting every two weeks or more often, especially during pivotal times of the year.”

Duncanson hired a crop scout to monitor his fields. He also used an in-furrow insecticide and pre-emergent grass herbicide followed by a conventional herbicide with broadleaf control and grass suppression. His crop scout has studied up on pests such as corn borer, corn rootworm and corn earworm to ensure he can react quickly and appropriately if the need arises.

Using conventional herbicides could lead to more crop damage, Kruger says. Conventional products might affect flexibility, require more proactive measures and, in some cases, might not have the economic payback that makes it worth your investment of time and money.

“As we get toward harvest, we are a little more apprehensive about standability,” Duncanson says. “[We will be] more strategic about which corn we harvest first. Every year is a little different, this is no exception.”

When margins are tight and you’re considering a switch to conventional hybrids to cut costs, don’t lose sight of your net profit. Adding or subtracting traits doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll automatically make more money. Consider time and additional inputs before making up your mind.  

Tips for First-Time Conventional Buyers

If you’re considering switching to conventional hybrids, keep these factors in mind to maximize profit:

  • Buy early and pay with a check to hold supply.
  • Make a plan for scouting. Hire a crop scout or make it part of your routine.
  • Let your neighbors know you’re planting conventional so they don’t accidentally burn your end rows with glyphosate.
  • Since risk for insect damage is higher, monitor standability throughout the growing season to be strategic at harvest.
  • You might need to reach out to seed dealers and brands you are unfamiliar with to get the supplies you need.


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Spell Check

Johnny Soybean
Kent, DE
7/28/2015 04:48 PM

  We all pay somewhere..pick your poison and dose !!!

St Charles , MO
7/28/2015 02:03 PM

  While I completely understand the need to cut initial cost, this trend can be a huge mistake in reference to marketing. The amount of premium offered to producers has dwindled and the amount of non gmo bushels given to producers has decreased as well. This is a result of less demand from foreign buyers and ample supply of non-gmo grains. Compound this with lower final yields and there is a very strong case producers are in better shape planting tier 1 gmo's. Be careful to identify your yield difference and market situation before using this tactic to cut cost in a low priced commodity market.


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