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The Battle About GMO Seed and Food

January 14, 2012

On many forums, on food discussion lists and in many Tweets and Facebook status messages, GMO food is a focus. It’s ‘evil’ and should be banned. It’s a tool and boosts available food. It’s a threat to the environment. It’s a solution to a growing food population. It’s different from other food and alters genes. It’s no different from other food and is safe. We need it labeled even if it may have it but don’t want everything labeled it might have it (except organic – which doesn’t have GMO). Farmers are forced to grow GMO and beholding to the big corporations. Farmers choose what they grow based on demand, land and what they need that pays the bills. With so many opposing statements where do we find the truth?

The truth is American farmers will grow what consumers want if the consumers are willing to pay for it. You can’t expect any business to work for no profit. The idea that some corporation dictates is just not true, unless a farmer chose to have a contract with said corporation.

Here at SlowMoneyFarm WE decide what we plant. In our food shares, we leave options for the individual as to what they want. It’s what the customer wants and will pay for.There is organic seed readily available if there is the demand for purchasing it.

Right now there are many acres devoted to corn production. This is not only field corn but also sweet corn and popcorn. I asked my ag friend Kevin about current pricing and rates. “Typical cost of a bag of seed corn containing Bt and RR traits run $250-$300 per bag. non GMO runs from $150-$220 per bag. A bag plants an average of 2.5 acres. Corn farmers plant 30,000 to 40,000 kernals per acre, a bag of seed contains 80,000 kernals.”

These thoughts came to me the other night when I was browsing the seed catalog from Johnny’s – one of the companies we’ve ordered vegetable seeds from in the past. There are nine varieties of ornamental and field corn, and four of those are organic. There’s the Jerry Peterson Blue, that runs $775 ($15.50 per pound in 100# amounts) for 50 pounds. There’s the Earth Tones Dent corn that is $687.50 for that same 50 pounds. Add about $40 shipping onto both of those.

Now a bag plants about 2.5 acres so if we’re planting ten acres (still very small!) we’re looking at approximately four bags of corn. So the seed for that Earth Tones Dent is $2910; the Jerry Petersen Blue is certified organic and is about $3260 to get to the barn. Kevin’s figures for non GMO put a range of $600-880, and GMO is about $1,000-1,200. That’s *just* our seed cost…not fuel to plant, not tending to weeds, not the variable yield, which can vary widely. Let’s say in our bubble they all come out average.

Kevin said “Average yield in Wisc is 146 bu. My average is 185. Not uncommon to see yield average per acre in the high 200’s. Some will yield over 300 bushel.” For my friends not well versed in ag-ese that’s 146 bushels per acre, average 185 bushels per acre. So let’s be positive – average. Over 10 acres that’s 1,850 bushels – each bushel about 56 pounds. 51.8 tons of corn.  Now you go to the elevator to sell your corn and get the same price.

This of course doesn’t include the purchase/maintenance of the equipment or hiring someone to custom plant the 10 acres. If all other costs are the same, the first two varieties are over three times the cost of the plain non-GMO corn which is slightly less cost than the GMO. If they all make average costs that’s roughly $2,000 more in costs to plant.This doesn’t include the factor of some ‘traditional’ untreated seed is eaten by birds, doesn’t have the yield, takes more to cultivate (and more expense)…so may not be an even average comparable to the GMO and non-GMO organic.

Of course now you hold back your own seed – with that five bags you can plant next year and still have plenty to feed the chickens, cattle, grind for your use or whatever. You could elect to not sell at the market but instead sell direct to others in the area. Figuring in your higher seed cost, the ordinary corn right now runs about $16 per hundred pounds bulk at the local farmer’s co-op. How many would pay $32 per hundred – double – for that same corn? Let alone triple.

So let’s say you’re raising chickens and need a ton of feed – that’s an option of $320 for ‘regular corn’ or $640 for the Blue or Earth Tones Dent, if figured at double the cost.

We all have a price what it’s worth to us, but double the cost is a tough thing to swallow. Triple the cost is out of range – if costs now mean $3.50 per dozen eggs is breaking even, is anyone going to pay $10.50 for a dozen?

There are many that say they will pay a little extra, while industry experts say otherwise. There are many that say they empower the non GMO or organic – but aren’t willing to pay more. The fact remains that many do care and would step up to grow what is wanted – but it comes with a price tag required to be able to do it.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2012 8:15 PM

    This post just furthers the idea that the power is in the consumer’s hands. But the communication must be there letting people know the truth to it all. Thanks to documentaries and word of mouth, the message is spreading, but now its up to people to start acting.

    • January 15, 2012 1:49 PM

      Thanks for stopping by – it really *is* in the consumer’s hands…far more than many realize! It’s so easy to rely on “we need to ban ” or ” are heartless” and forget every dollar we spend on food matters. Whether that’s organic, or corporate, or direct, or through a restaurant NO business will keep or produce what doesn’t sell. Thanks for visiting!

  2. September 13, 2015 3:49 PM

    With specialty corn or any expensive Open Pollinated corn you can just plant out a smaller plot year in advance and save seed from the best and save hundreds on next years scaled up planting. I have saved thousands in seed costs like that. Accidental cross pollination with a blue corn is not a big deal because you can easily see if any ears cross pollinated with neighbors.

    • December 12, 2015 11:19 AM

      Very true. The problem comes if crop failure hits the seed crop. Thanks for commenting. ..sorry so long in response.

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