With lower commodity prices, many corn growers in the Eastern Corn Belt are producing non-genetically modified (GMO) corn to lower input costs while attempting to capture an additional premium.
Depending on the contracting elevator, standard GMO contamination allowances are typically from 0% to 1%. Producing non-GMO corn within the acceptable tolerances of GMO contamination is possible; however, there are several challenges and potential pitfalls that make production of 100% pure non-GMO corn a tremendous undertaking. Several factors throughout the growing season can result in contamination and result in a loss of premiums. Planting non-GMO seed does not necessarily mean the harvested shelled corn will be GMO free.
Contaminated seed or seed that does not meet allowances can cause purity issues from the start. Seed handling and planting equipment that is not thoroughly cleaned prior to planting can be a source of contamination as well. Adventitious pollen from nearby GMO corn fields can cross-pollinate with non-GMO corn, affecting purity. Mistakes made in record keeping concerning what fields were planted to non-GMO corn hybrids can result in harvesting the wrong hybrid or the commingling of non-GMO and GMO grain at harvest. Finally contaminated, grain cars, wagons, trucks, augers, grain legs, and grain bins can result in lost premiums due to contamination of grain at harvest or in on-farm grain storage. Then, tests used by elevators to determine if GMOs are present may not be 100% accurate, but they are a determining factor as to whether a load will be accepted.
With all the potential sources of contamination, corn growers may ask: “What can be done to eliminate threats to production of pure non-GMO grain?” Starting with quality seed at planting is a must. Planting seed that has been produced following industry standards and has passed purity tests is critical. Growers should communicate to their seed rep that they are attempting to capture a premium and select the correct hybrid. While seed companies most likely won’t guarantee 100% pure grain delivered to an elevator after harvest, selecting the right seed lot will give growers the best chance of producing grain that meets elevator tolerances. Prior to planting, all seed handling and planting equipment should be thoroughly and completely cleaned to ensure any other seed has been removed.
Detailed planning and accurate record keeping are extremely important. Non-GMO fields must be adequately isolated from GMO corn fields to reduce the chances of cross pollination. The industry standard for isolation is 660 feet. Significantly varying planting dates and/or hybrid maturities between non-GMO and GMO fields can offset pollination timing which will also aid in efforts to eliminate cross pollination. Growers need to plan non-GMO planting so that fields are isolated and keep accurate planting records to ensure that non-GMO hybrids are harvested and stored separately from GMO corn.
Finally, harvest and grain handling can be a challenge when attempting to produce non-GMO grain. Prior to harvest, all harvesting, handling, and storage equipment should be completely cleaned. Combines, wagons, grain carts, and trucks should be thoroughly cleaned of any grain. Augers, dump pits, grain legs, dryers, air systems, etc. should also be completely cleaned to eliminate contamination in on-farm storage. Non-GMO corn should be stored separately from GMO corn and records must be kept as to which grain bin holds what hybrid. Growers must also make sure that all handling equipment and trucks/wagons are thoroughly cleaned again prior to the removal of grain from storage and transportation to an elevator.
There are many potential sources of contamination that make capturing a non-GMO premium a tremendous undertaking. Corn growers must plan ahead and take extreme care in all aspects of corn production from planting to harvest. Although producing grain that meets elevator standards is challenging, it is possible, and many corn growers successfully capture premiums each growing season. Through careful planning and attention to detail, growers can ensure they have minimized the chance of contamination and provide the best possible conditions for capturing a non-GMO premium.