sealPurdue News

February 2000

Expert offers advice on spring planting decisions

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – To grow genetically modified grains or not? That is the big question facing farmers who must decide now what varieties to plant in the spring.

"While it appears there will be markets for both GM and non-GM grains, the size of the market and possible premiums available have not been clearly determined," says James Pritchett, Purdue University agricultural economist. "No one I've talked to seems to have the definitive answer."

Pritchett says that because of concerns about future markets for genetically modified grains, some producers see growing conventional corn and soybeans as an opportunity. In 1999, market premiums were available in some regions, anywhere from 10 to 25 cents per bushel for unmodified soybeans and 7 to 35 cents per bushel for unmodified corn.

This year, he says, if premiums are paid it's more likely that they will be paid for conventional soybeans than for conventional corn. He says the situation for corn is more complex and premiums are less likely because of the number of corn varieties available, European Union regulatory standards that allow import of some modified corn varieties, and the high cost of the procedure used to test for genetically modified corn.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency recently ruled that farmers who wish to plant Bt corn, which is bioengineered to produce a protein that kills the European corn borer and other insects, must plant 20 percent to 50 percent of their acreage in conventional corn in order to provide a refuge area so that insects do not develop a resistance to the protein.

Certifying that grain is GM-free may be difficult to do. In order to qualify for the premiums, grains often must test at levels from 95 percent to 99.99 percent GM-free. Identity preservation practices required for certification of a non-GM crop generally include highly detailed record keeping; on-farm segregation of the growing and harvested crop; and careful cleaning of equipment and storage facilities.

"If a producer seeks to plant non-GM seed for a premium, it is worthwhile to identify fields that will be easiest to isolate at planting and harvest and those that might be expected to benefit the least from GM varieties," Pritchett says.

Aside from premiums that may or may not exist, Pritchett advises producers to explore the agronomic advantages of genetically modified vs. conventional crops. "Weigh the benefits and costs of insect-resistant corn or herbicide-tolerant soybeans against the non-GM varieties," he says.

Pritchett offers additional points to consider before purchasing spring planting seed:

• Know the costs of identity preservation practices. "The extra effort may not be worth it," he says.

• Know your local market. Pritchett says that as a general rule, export and food-grade markets are more likely to provide premiums for products that have not been genetically modified than are markets that primarily supply domestic markets or feed producers.

• Carefully examine any non-GM contract offered for the 2000 crop. Producers should understand the requirements of the contract, the cost of meeting those requirements, and the potential risks of not meeting them.

Source: James Pritchett, (765) 496-6262;

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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