Growers lean toward GM soybeans, away from GM corn. Wondering what seed to buy this spring? You're not alone. Growers this year have found their choice of seed to be one of the most difficult decisions they have had to make in years. Even at this late date, more growers than usual report they are on the fence about what seed to order.
The big question troubling most buyers is whether to use genetically modified (GM) seed or traditional seed. Uncertainty about the export market for GM grain has created this dilemma (see our story on page 68).
What are farmers planning to do? We asked our Team FIN members what seed they bought or expect to buy. During the holidays, here's what they were thinking.
Question mark on GM soybeans, no GM corn. Growers within reach of ADM's terminals in Illinois find the seed-buying decision particularly difficult. Jack and Gary Appleby, Atwood, IL, are undecided on soybean varieties for their 2000 crop. Most of their crop goes to ADM, which has not committed to taking GM grain. The brothers did sign up for a $0.20 premium from ADM to raise 400 acres of STS soybeans, non-GM varieties. Cargill announced it will take GM grains, but the Applebys report the company generally pays a dime less than ADM.
They intended to wait until this month to buy soybean seed, but they have a supply of regular soybean seed being held for them should they decide to buy non-GM varieties.
However, they have purchased the corn hybrids. They ordered traditional and white corn hybrids.
"We're not going to get in any big hurry with this GM stuff," Gary says. "When Europe is ready, they will take it. We're still going to make money with regular corn and beans."
Yes GM soybeans, no GM corn. Northwest Ohio grower Daryl Bridenbaugh admits that this year's seed decisions are tough. "I'm all confused," he says, after attending a December grower meeting with seed companies and grain buyers. He found few answers there on the GM issue.
His solution: "I think I'm going to plant all Roundup Ready [RR] soybeans like I did last year. But it might be my last year. I might try STS beans next year and get a premium for them."
Bridenbaugh plans to use the RR beans this year to make sure thistles are killed before buying STS, which doesn't handle thistles. A regular RR bean grower, Bridenbaugh will make the switch if the industry moves against the GM crop. He had purchased only 20% of his soybean seed by the end of the year. But he planned to place the rest of his orders in January.
The corn crop will be traditional hybrids. "The last few years Bt corn hasn't paid off around here," he says. "I usually plant 10 to 20% Bt corn." He planned to wait to place corn orders, too.
Yes GM soybeans, no GM canola. Sitting about one mile from Canada, Bradley McIntosh plants canola, wheat, barley, soybeans and flax. GM varieties of canola and soybeans are available for his Hannah, ND, fields. On his small acreage of soybeans, he may try a new RR variety developed by a local seed house for northern climates. He doesn't expect a problem marketing the GM grain.
GM varieties of canola have become popular with McIntosh's neighbors to the north. He says more than half of the canola acres in Canada are planted in GM seed. "A lot of canola from here is shipped to Canada," he adds. "Like it or not, it is all commingled. There is no pure, non-GM canola [grain] anymore. Most people aren't too concerned about it."
McIntosh will not try the new GM canola varieties, however, because he has non-GM canola seed left over from last year that did not get planted.
Yes GM soybeans, no GM corn. Contracts for food-grade corn require Scott Mc-Pheeters to plant non-GM corn. He purchased these hybrids early because the seed often runs out.
The Gothenburg, NE, farmer also raises popcorn under contract. No GM popcorn hybrid is available. McPheeters said he wouldn't buy this seed until after February 1 when prices were announced.
His soybeans will probably be 100% GM varieties. "We're so far inland that all soybeans are used for domestic feed," he explains. Plus, he needs to use RR soybeans so that he doesn't have a carryover concern when he rotates a crop of popcorn on the field.
McPheeters placed some orders for soybeans but planned to wait until February or March for the rest. "I think everybody is double booking now and waiting until the last minute and then canceling what they don't want," he adds. He did order some coated RR soybean seed that will let him plant early before the corn is planted.
Yes GM soybeans, no GM corn. "We're not too concerned about GM crops," reports Roland Schnell, Sully, IA. "It is the big coffee shop talk. But nobody is doing much about it."
Schnell plans to plant nearly 100% of his soybean crop to RR and a large share of his corn crop to Bt hybrids. He planted both last year and had no problem selling the crop to local elevators.
What he is doing different this year is waiting to place his seed orders. "Last year, we felt that by purchasing early, we might have missed out on a few opportunities for later contracts," he says. So by late December, he had not purchased or ordered any seed.
Question mark on soybeans, no GM corn. Like many growers in the Corn Belt, Steve Webb is taking a wait-and-see attitude about soybean varieties.
"We don't make that decision until a few weeks before we go to the field," he says. "I don't think there will be a shortage of RR seed. And we do have sources for non-GM seed." He does not anticipate a big problem selling RR soybeans, however, because most are used for feed in the state.
The Needham, IN, grower did not raise RR soybeans last year. Instead, he used STS varieties for weed control.
Webb had placed his order for traditional corn hybrids in early December. "I'm staying away from GM corn," he says. "I haven't seen much data from this area that indicated Bt had a yield advantage last year. I think the risks outweigh the benefits here. We have other good agronomic options for controlling weeds in corn."