Kenny Reinke, Neligh, Neb., has been raising non-genetically modified corn and soybeans on contract for the past few years. Nebraska Farmer caught up with Reinke earlier this summer and asked him about some of the challenges and rewards of raising crops under this system and about his management philosophy when it comes to non-GMO crops in the field. Here is the result of our interview.
What drove your decision to raise non-GMO crops?
Farming is all about staying competitive and doing anything you can to generate cash flow and maintain a positive margin. But there has to be demand and a market for what you grow before you can even think of growing specialty crops. J.E. Meuret Grain Co. close to my farm at Brunswick, Neb., unlocked that piece of the puzzle for me. Other markets are available for non-GMO crops, but they were located farther away and the premiums would get eaten up by trucking. Meuret Grain has the ability to ship via rail, so that has helped return more of the premiums to the local producers. Growing milo previously was probably the biggest factor in my decision to try non-GMO crops. Milo gave me a chance to see what it was like going away from glyphosate weed control. When I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to hold down weed pressure in the milo, I realized that non-GMO corn would be even easier because more herbicides are labeled for corn.
How challenging was it to go back to older chemistries for weed control and developing a new herbicide program that would work?
As a farmer, I’m willing to grow anything there is a demand and accessible market for. Because some Americans believe that non-GMO grain is a safer, healthier option, there is a market for that grain. On my non-GMO acres, I’m basically farming as my dad did prior to the late 1990s and commercial availability of glyphosate-resistant seed. This means using more chemicals and a greater variety of chemicals to produce a crop. My chemical program already involved the use of preemerge herbicide, so that didn’t change drastically. I focus on strengthening my pre-residual program to hold grass down in corn and broadleaves in soybeans, because these are my in-season weed challenges. On the corn side, I’ve been very happy. It’s almost impossible to tell my non-GMO corn from the GMO cornfields. I’m able to source top parent lines in my seed that are non-GMO, some of which I have grown before as a GMO variety. This gives me an advantage in knowing proper placement and past performance. The first year I planted non-GMO corn, it actually outyielded my GMO seed.
Soybeans have been a different story. The same challenges we faced prior to glyphosate systems are still alive and well. I’m using full-rate doses of some of the products farmers use to spike glyphosate to combat resistant weeds, but I’m only getting partial control. Every year that I’ve grown non-GMO soybeans, I’ve had to cultivate the crop, adding to my costs and messing up my continuous no-till system. So, the soybean side of the non-GMO picture has been a love-hate relationship to say the least. Depending on the premiums, I may walk away from planting non-GMO soybeans because of these challenges.
What types of insect problems are now on your scouting list that you didn’t worry about before?
We have been using Bt corn for so long that many imagine that corn borer no longer exists. I will be the first to bust that myth. Every year I have grown non-GMO corn, I have had to treat for first-generation corn borer. I usually try to place the corn on fields that I know can be chemigated easily, which brings down the cost of treatment and provides better efficacy than other treatment methods. Second-generation corn borer and western bean cutworm can usually be treated together depending on the pest pressure.
Tell us about the necessary identity-preserved protocol for corn and soybeans related to your contract?
In order to receive a premium, I have to be able to guarantee delivery of corn and soybeans that have a specific percentage of purity. Soybeans are easier to maintain that purity, which makes sense when you consider how the plant reproduces and produces grain. Everything is based on a will-call delivery system, so bin space is an important factor in being able to capture a premium. A representative sample or core of the bin is taken and tested before any delivery takes place, so any purity issues can be handled before delivery. At delivery time, small samples are taken and held to maintain purity and to be able to trace back issues that may arise. The sample is ground, and then put into a slurry solution and checked against a test strip, looking for specific GMO traits.