FARM DESCRIPTION AND PROJECT BACKGROUND
Small farm consisting of 160 acres, producing organic corn, soybeans, and oats. No livestock. Sustainable practices included crop rotation and cover crops. I have been actively using organic farming methods since 1997.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION, RESULTS, OUTREACH
The goal of this project was to explore the possibility of growing and marketing organic hybrid yellow dent seed corn to other organic farmers.
The research included consulting two inbred seed companies and getting seed catalogs from them as well as hybrid selection choices. The first year we planted test seed to evaluate which hybrids would grow best in an organic farming system, and which would be easiest to produce. Along with this we invited other organic farmers to come to a field day to inspect the test plot and give opinions on their hybrid preferences. Also, on that day, a certified organic crop consultant (Reggie Destree) was on hand and gave a presentation on organic products and growing methods. About 13 people came and viewed the field and offered their ideas. Joe Roberts who produces seed crops himself, assisted with growing, harvesting, and seed cleaning.
The Nebraska Crop Improvement Association also was involved by providing the necessary guidelines for seed certification and sales.
In the second year, we planted two seed fields, consisting of male and female inbreds. Early planting is essential due to the fact that the future seed crop must be mature and harvested prior to freeze dates otherwise the seed will be damaged. Weed control and insect pressure are two very key management issues, along with the need for irrigation to keep the crop going. Inbred seed plants are much smaller than the hybrid seed corn and don’t compete well against any weed pressure. The other serious problem is pest control. Raccoon and deer love seed corn just like sweet corn, maybe more. You have to fence out these pests or they will eat the entire crop. Trying to grow small fields of one variety selection is an open invitation to these animals.
The two main findings we discerned are:
One, growing organic hybrid seed is extremely difficult to do on a small scale.
Two, the only way to succeed at such a venture would be if a group of organic farmers would commit to purchasing a particular variety and then grow it. This seems most challenging because many organic farmers are currently sidestepping the rule on using only organic seed. Until this rule is fully enforced there is no point in trying to attempt to offer such a product because of the uncertainty of selling it.
Growing and selling organic hybrid yellow dent seed corn is possible but would only be profitable if enough organic growers would commit to working together for its success. As a result, our family farm has discontinued pursuing this venture.