Growing non-GMO crops is not that difficult in itself: varieties and pest management tactics are available for both corn and soybeans. We have had some non-GMO production in Pennsylvania in the last several years and have tested both non-GMO corn and soybean lines in our variety trials. Where corn borer pressure is low, which is common in many areas now, and rootworms are controlled with crop rotation or insecticides, yields of leading non-GMO lines were similar to GMO lines. Our experience with non-GMO soybean lines has not been as extensive, but generally has been positive as well.
Growing non-GMO crops for an identity preserved market is another matter, though, and requires more planning, organization and management. There already are some dedicated non-GMO corn and soybean markets in the Midwest that are mostly served by some specialized growers that have dedicated themselves or at least part of their operations to meeting the needs of that market. This helps to minimize the potential for contamination at planting, at harvest or in storage systems. It also reduces the potential for mix-ups in weed control and reduces the need for multiple herbicide programs and sprayer cleanouts.
An interesting story on non-GMO crop production aired earlier this week on NPR and provided some insight as to how a Midwest elevator and farmer are growing and managing identify preserved crop production for this market. In this article they state the common threshold for GMO contamination in grain is 0.9% contamination and the premium is 10% to 15%. Thresholds and premiums have not been set for markets here at this point, according to my sources.
Non-GMO production is only one of several potential value-added markets that are possible. Production of high-Oleic soybeans under contract is beginning this year using the Plenish soybeans from Dupont. These are transgenic and need to be marketed for domestic oil or used for feed and will command a premium at the market. Non-GMO food grade soybean markets are another possibility; these have been discussed in the past several years but adoption was low. With lower commodity prices and opportunities for some premiums, more folks could be revisiting these as well.
All of these value-added, identity-preserved markets represent a new market for our grain but require more management and attention to detail to capitalize on them.