Can Conventional Keep Up?

01:49PM Aug 04, 2020
Joel Layman
“We’re trying to build value into a commodity, and it starts with the seed purchase.” -Joel Layman
( Chad Tidey )

One of the greatest barriers to growing non-GMO corn or soybeans is often the risk — what if yields aren’t as high? Bushels create profit, and if you’re going to consider switching to a non-traited product, it’s important to prove the money is there.

On his farm in Berrien Center, Mich., Joel Layman grows corn, soybeans and produce. In 2013, he started dabbling in non-GMO and organic production.

Even with the premiums he receives for organic crops, he is committed to maximizing yields through smart agronomic decisions. Fortunately for him, non-GMO corn and soybeans have made sizable leaps in recent years.

“The breeding has advanced as quickly in non-traited corn as it has in traited corn,” says Mac Erhardt, Albert Lea Seed president. “If you could plant the best-available 100-day non-GMO hybrid next to the best-available traited product (and eliminate insect and pest pressure), there’s just as much yield in the conventional, non-GMO corn as in traited corn.”

However, he says, soybeans have not kept pace with traited varieties. With weed pressure and breeding challenges, non-GMO soybeans pose risk.

Know Before You Grow

If you’re considering switching to non-GMO crops, answer these questions:

  • Are there naturally bred traits you should consider? “I look for traits that are desirable for my end user, such as more or less protein,” Layman explains. “We’re trying to build value into a commodity, and it starts with the seed purchase.”
  • Should you seek defensive traits? “I can’t use seed treatments or conventional fertility products,” Layman says. “I look at more defensive traits like standability, emergence, some of those types of factors.”
  • What’s your insect pressure? “Clearly, traits are hugely advantageous when there are insect problems,” Erhardt says. Know what pest management techniques you might need to use, such as foliar, in-furrow or other insecticide treatments.
  • Do you need a premium? “About 95% of our conventional corn customers plant it with no expectation of a premium — it just makes economic sense with the seed savings,” Erhardt says. However, he recommends securing a contract for a premium if you’re growing non-GMO soybeans because of the potential challenges.

Conventional corn can cost in the $150-to-$170 range per bag. However, consider the added costs of insecticides, weed control and fungicides. Understand the trade-offs, Layman says.


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