Monday, December 29, 2014

GMO versus NonGMO: The Cost of Production

Recently I was asked to answer a question on GMO Answers regarding what the productions costs are comparing GMO and nonGMO crops. For my family farm, that specifically means corn or soybeans. The hay including alfalfa, tomatoes, green beans, and grapes have not been genetically engineered, they are "conventional" or traditional hybrids from other means of plant breeding.

Answering the question in terms of costs necessitates the entire picture of yield and price per bushel, otherwise a farmer would have an incomplete picture by which to make business decisions that impact the sustainability of the family farm. The other critical piece that folks don't seem to grasp is the market demand in various regions. Farmers grow what there is demand for, plain and simple. What markets are available in our region and the products they want from farmers. Economics 101. We don't grow what we can't sell. For us, there is greater demand for GMO derived feed and imgredients than there is for nonGMO feed and ingredients. Strange isn't it? You haven't heard that before have you? The media would lead you to believe otherwise, but the media aren't connected to the farm community or its markets. If you are believing only what you read in the media, then you are not seeing the entire picture, just a very small slice of their pie, so to speak.

The data below is our data, no one else's data. We can't make sustainable business decisions based on hypotheticals or someone else's data. We make decisions for our farm based on our outcomes and experiences. These figures are not everyone else's figures. These figures do not extrapolate to our neighbors or farmers in other regions or states. These figures are what drives our decision making and choices for the coming year. If the market changes, we change our decision making process. If yield or costs change, we change our decision making process. In the end, our goal is to have healthy soils producing healthy foods and have a sustainable family farm to leave for the next generation.

GMO vs NonGMO Production Comparison

Will Rogers is credited with the quote: "The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer."  Optimistically, each winter we review our harvest data comparing our crop yield by variety to our cost of production for that crop that season, in consideration of the type of growing season we had, in order to decide what seeds to purchase for the coming season.

Since 1998, we have been growing both GM and non-GM corn and soybeans. (We don’t actually use the term “GM” or “GMO” since all domesticated crops have been genetically modified, but am using the acronym for the sake of this audience). We run the numbers ever year for every variety and every crop because that’s the only way to run any successful business. We collect the data on what worked and what didn’t work and make changes and improvements or what many businesses call “continuous quality improvement.”

2014 Corn Production Non-Irrigated

Cost Per Acre
Non BT Corn
BT Corn
Seed
$65
$114
Fertilizer
$123
$123
Herbicide
$40
$21
Crop Insurance
$40
$40
Fertilizer Application
$7.50
$7.50
Planting
$28
$28
Nitrogen Application
$9.50
$9.50
Pesticide Application
$9.00
$9.00
Harvest
$28.00
$28.00
Hauling
$25.00
$25.00
Drying
$60
$60
Land Rent
$150
$150
Total Cost of Inputs
$585/ac
$615/ac
BPA=bushels per acre
186 BPA
221 BPA
Current cash price/bu
(Salisbury, MD)
$4.01
$4.01
Gross Income/ac
$745.86
$886.21
Net Income Difference
$161
$271


2014 Soybean Production Non-Irrigated

Cost Per Acre
Non-GMO for Food
GMO for Feed
GMO for Seed
GMO High Oleic

Seed
$41
$53
$53
$53

Fertilizer
$21
$21
$21
$21
Herbicide
$40
$18
$18
$18
Crop Insurance
$32
$32
$32
$32
Fertilizer application
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
Planting
$20
$20
$20
$20
Pesticide application
$18
$18
$18
$18
Harvest
$28
$28
$28
$28
Hauling
$9
$9
$9
$9
Land Rent
$150
$150
$150
$150
Total Cost of Inputs
$366.50
$356.50
$356.50
$356.50
Bushels/Ac (BPA)
35 BPA
50 BPA
50 BPA
55 BPA
Price/Bushel
$12.25
$9.60
$11.50
$11.25
Gross Income
$429
$480
$575
$619
Net Income Difference
$62
$124
$219
$263

The first year we planted Bt corn was 2000. As you can see from the chart below, it has out-performed conventional corn every single year. What is most noteworthy however, is the importance of its performance in unfavorable growing years.  We had drought conditions from 2010-2012. A healthy crop is a more productive crop and in bad years, that can make the biggest difference to the financial sustainability of the family farm. I previously had included our organic corn data in this chart but have since removed it. We grew conventional, biotech, and organic corn simultaneously but stopped our organic production in 2011. It average was below 50 bushels per acre and makes a very poor comparison. We decertified our organic ground and for that reason, I no longer include the data.

Corn (non-irrigated)
2000
2004

2010
(slight drought)


2011
(drought & hurricane)

2012
(drought)
2013
2014
Biotech  Acres
10
276
573
397
464
290
275
Avg Yield BPA
171
182
110
44
111
214
220
Conventional Acres
647
415
195
213
261
75
200
Avg Yield BPA
165
167
91
18
57
202
186
Biotech/Bt
Yield Advantage
6.4
15
19
26
54
12
34
Price/Bu
$2.35
$2.55
$5.18
$6.47
$7.40
$4.41
$4
Net income difference
Due to yield
$15.04
$38.25
$98.42
$168.22
$399.60
$53
$136

Likewise in our soybean production history, we have consistently experienced a better yield in our GM soy over our non-GM soy. We grow four “classes” of soy: soy for food, soy for feed, soy for seed, and a specialty GM bean High Oleic (HO) acid beans. The HO beans go for feed but the oil that is extracted is used in baking and frying which eliminates the trans-fatty acids from using hydrogenated soybean oil as an ingredient. These beans are kept segregated and true to their variety in order to have the highest quality HO oil from the extraction process.

Soybeans (dryland)
1998
2000
2005 
2010
(slight drought)
2011
(drought
& hurricane)
2012
(drought)
2013
2014
Biotech Acreage
195
322
416
270
522
527
200
300
Yield bu/a
54.2
50.3
53.5
46
37
43
48
55
Conventional Acreage
156
184
213
306
750
675
175
100
Yield bu/a
48.2
43.2
46.3    
36
34
36
25
35
Yield Difference
6 bu
7.1 bu
7.2 bu
10 bu
3 bu
7 bu
23
20
Price/Bushel
$6.90
$6.62
$7.25
$11.30
$12.52
$14.55
$13.55
$11.25
Income Difference/
Acre
$41.40  
 $47.00  
$52.20
$113.00
$37.56
$101.85
$312
$225

Even when there is a premium involved with growing a non-GM grain, due to better yields, GM has out-performed non-GM on our farm every year. We have experienced higher yields in all of our GM crops in the nearly 17 years we have been using the seeds. We grow what we have market access to sell in our region. Our choice to buy seed is based on the success of various seeds we have tried and well as University research conducted in our area. We don’t pay attention to data that comes from other growing regions in the US because it generally isn’t relevant to the conditions we experience. We use a “prove it” mentality in that we will give a seed a try on a limited number of acres and do our own compare and contrast to our other fields. Our decision making is balanced by diversity of the markets we can access, the demand within those markets, and the productivity that we have seen for ourselves to justify which type of seeds to plant each and every year.

As I said at the beginning, these are our costs and our production figures. Don't assume they are the same for all farmers. They are not.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is that not #RealFood?

Despite being the biggest producer of grains as well as fruits and vegetables in the State of Maryland, the Eastern Shore farming community has seemingly been labeled as not "real food farming."

Last week, the Baltimore Sun ran an article by reporter Dan Rodricks about the purchase of a Kent County farm using tax payer funded "Program Open Space" monies which was discussed by the Board of Public Works who approves such purchases. Besides the fact that the State paid $2.8 million or nearly $11,000/acre, nearly $5000 per acre more than current farmland values, it was also proposed that the farm be leased directly to a lawyer/farmer for $1 per year, bypassing the otherwise required statewide competitive bidding process required for any of the rest of us Maryland farmers to lease state-owned land. The land would be used as part of a "Food Hub" nonprofit also supported by this lawyer turned farmer who has been a noted financial backer to the Democratic party. Thus the Comptroller deemed the deal "sleazy".

My issue is not about the purchase of the farm though do question why outgoing Governor O'Malley would waste taxpayer dollars by paying such a ridiculous amount for farmland. (And go on about how the State out-competes farmers by paying exorbitant prices that would never cash-flow a farming operation and disadvantages farmers by giving landowners artificial economic value.) Rather, my issue is with  the premise that there is a lack of "real food" grown on the Eastern Shore. I dispute the notion that there is not "real food farming" here on the Delmarva. If you are a Marylander who never gets off of Route 50 on your way to the beach in the summer, then maybe that is your impression. Or if you're an urbanite who doesn't know a lima bean from a soybean plant or sweet corn from field corn, you may have no idea what you see as you drive past our farms. If you have never talked to a farmer except at a farmer's market, you may not know the sheer volume of "real food" grown here because farmers like me, do not sell to consumers, but sell directly to companies who make products like spaghetti sauce or who distribute directly to the grocery store.

 The full article is linked here: "Behind 'sleazy' deal, a good idea about food." 

My issue with the "good idea about food" is this (emphasis mine). The article says:

"Separate from the Wick Farm deal, Braver wants to lease land from the town of Easton, in Talbot County, and build a large warehouse-style building where Eastern Shore farmers can bring their fruits, vegetables and meats to be distributed and sold throughout the region. She also wants to create an apprenticeship program for new farmers who will grow things people eat.

Right now, of course, that kind of farming — farmers' market farming — is dwarfed by the soy, corn and wheat farming that goes on here, along with dairy and Big Chicken.


Braver, an organic farmer, thinks we need to move to real-food farming for a bunch of good reasons: Fresh, local food is healthier, in part because it doesn't have to travel as far to market; it doesn't require as much fossil fuel to ship. We could put more Marylanders to work growing our own, right in our own backyard, and eventually become more "food secure" — that is, less reliant on produce or protein grown or raised hundreds of miles away.

"Currently, just 3 percent of the country's farmland is used to grow and harvest fruit and vegetable crops," Braver says, "And it's less than 2.5 percent in Maryland. We are not creating our own food. We want to expand real-food production on the Eastern Shore."



.....As if real-food production doesn't already exist on the Eastern Shore....?

First a few statistics using the 2012 USDA Ag Census:

Between the 9 Eastern Shore Counties, there are 30,023 acres of vegetables and nearly 700 orchard acres. This does not include 200 or so acres of winegrapes that have taken root on the Shore over the last 10 years or so. This doesn't include greenhouse production of which there is quite a bit as well.

By value, fruits and veges add up to a very nice diversification for quite a few farmers. Combining the 9 Eastern Shore counties, the value of fruits and veggies produced on nearly 31,000 acres is over $46 million. Those are some real dollar values to "grow things people eat."

So to illustrate this, here are some folks who "grow things people eat" right here on the Eastern Shore, many who have been at it for generations. 

My farm grew 7.21 million pounds of Roma tomatoes for spaghetti sauce & stewed tomatoes. Furmano's distribution is through the MidAtlantic and East Coast.
Is that not 
#RealFood?
Chesapeake Fields Farmers Cooperative grow 5.4 million pounds of soybeans for tofu each year. These soybeans are sold to Asian food processors in DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC & Boston markets.
 
Is that not #RealFood

The article goes onto note that the Delmarva will be the future source of food for the New York City region.... So Columbia University's Earth Institute apparently is unaware of the current food distribution along the East Coast to know that this is already happening.
My friend Hannah who farms in Caroline County, grew 10 million pounds of cucumbers this year which end up as pickles and pickled products in Vlasic, Mt. Olive, and B&G pickles. These are brands with national and regional regional distribution.
Is that not #RealFood?


Picture
Chesapeake Greenhouse grows hydroponic lettuce, 42,000 heads per rotation, year round.
Is that not #RealFood?
Warwick Mushroom Farm in Kent County picks 500,000 pounds of mushrooms per week.
A half million pounds of mushrooms every week!
Is that not #RealFood?
1773 Maryland farmers grow soft red wheat at a $86 million value and supplies Auntie Anne's
with flour for their pretzel dough.
Is that not #RealFood?
Lisa and Tom Godfrey, owners of Godfrey's Farm-Locally Grown Fresh Fruit, Vegetables, Flowers & Plants in Sudlersville, Maryland
Photo: Edwin Remsberg
Godfrey's Vegetable Farm who are my neighbors in Sudlersville grow over 250 acres of fruits and vegetables including asparagus, cantaloupe, peaches, peppers, strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon and sell whole sale to grocers like Whole Foods in Annapolis. 
Is that not #RealFood?




Arnold Farms, outside Crumpton in Queen Anne's County grows 350 acres of vegetables including sweet corn, eggplant, squash and sells to Whole Foods and Giant.
Is that not #RealFood?




Every year we grow nearly 200 acres of green beans.  This year we grew 22,500 bushels of fresh green beans which are distributed up and down the East Coast  from Florida to Maine and states in between and a variety of grocery stores. In addition we donated 2000 pounds of green beans to the Maryland Food Bank's Farm to Food Bank program providing fresh produce to food bank recipients.
Is that not #RealFood?


Later in the article, it says
"We could put more Marylanders to work growing our own, right in our own backyard, and eventually become more "food secure" — that is, less reliant on produce or protein grown or raised hundreds of miles away.

 So as to not leave my livestock farming friends out because sourcing local protein should not be a problem for consumers....
Photo: Edwin Remsberg
My friend Jen and her family operate one of the few hog farms left in the region. They produce about 2.5 million pounds of pork sold throughout the MidAtlantic and NorthEast region.
Is that not #RealFood?


Photo:Edwin Remsberg
My other friend Jenny and her sons raise broiler chickens, which are mentioned in the article as "Big Chicken". Her farm produces about 2 million pounds of chicken each year. One of the many ways farmers diversify is to add poultry barns in order to have a revenue stream that allows for the next generation of young farmers to return home and make a living farming.

So 

A. Is that not #RealFood?

and

B. Is that not how we raise up the next generation of family farmers by affording them a way to return to the farm?



Are we Eastern Shore farmers not already "growing things people eat"?
I grow #RealFood.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cover Crops: How to Grow a Shag Carpet

Yes, I pretty much just dated myself as a child born in the late 60's, grew up in the 70's with that title. If you're old enough to enough to remember raking the carpet as something on your chore list, then we might be of the same age, especially if you remember having a chore list that didn't end with an allowance!

So if you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that we've been doing cover crops for more than 40 years. You'll remember this picture from the 1960's of my father in law getting ready to seed No Till cover crops into the corn field to the right of this Hi-Boy cover crop seeder. Cover crops are part of our family farming operation because they are what helps us grow a shag carpet.


If you remember walking on a shag carpet, especially after it has been recently raked, you know that the carpet has deep pile, something you could sink your toes into. That's the goal of our soil management program on our farm... to have soil that feels like a shag carpet when you walk on it. In agronomic terms, we call this "tilth". Tilth is the physical condition of the soil that allows for a healthy root system to support plant growth and plant health. Having soil with good tilth or that feels like a shag carpet means that the soil has large pore spaces for oxygenation and water filtration.

While Maryland farmers use a lot of cover crops in an effort to help reduce nutrients from leaving the soil for the protection of the Chesapeake Bay, that is really a secondary reason for us to use cover crops. We use cover crops primarily to improve our soil health, and specifically our soil tilth.



Here are some of the cover crops we plant and why:


Crimson Clover: We use a lot of this as a slow release nitrogen source for perennial crops like our grapes. Besides being a legume which adds nitrogen to the soil, also provides a lot of biomass when it is incorporated into the soil. This organic matter helps add structure to the soil which helps stabilize the soil from erosion, improves water holding capacity of the soil, and its decomposition adds microbial activity to the soil. Besides that they're a good habitat when in bloom in the spring for attracting beneficial insects.


Tillage Radish: I took this picture while combining corn last week. The radish seed was aerial seeded rather than drilled or planted (we no longer have that old fashioned Hi-Boy seeder from the 1960's.) Aerial seeding allows us to spread the cover crop early enough in the late summer or fall to allow for good germination. In order to get a good stand of any crop, you need good seed to soil contact, adequate sunlight and warm temperatures for germination. Today it is 26 degrees at Noon. It is too cold for seeds to germinate at this point. Tillage radish grows a long tap root which creates nice pores in the soil which help break up compaction from driving across fields with equipment, as well as acts as a "sink" for nutrients that the previous crop did not use this season. The radish stores those nutrients in its root. When it winter kills and the ground thaws out, the radish will decompose and release those nutrients back into the soil for the next crop to take up.


The aerial seeded tillage radish seen above is mixed with annual rye. It was seeded before we harvested the corn, then once the cover crop is no longer fully shaded by corn, it greens up and gets to work on the soil tilth. Along with decomposition of the corn stalks into the soil, over time, we work to increase the organic matter and create a soft, well structured soil that feels like a shag carpet when you walk across it.


This field above has a mixed species cover crop of tillage radish, crimson clover, and barley. It was drilled rather than aerial seeded. When we do a mixed species cover crop, it is to address several issues. Barley is good a taking up excess moisture and suppressing weeds which combined with the nutrient scavenging of crimson clover and the compaction reduction of tillage radish, is one of our preferred cover crop mixes.


So cover crops is only part of the shag carpet equation. The package deal is that soil management is a practice of adding organic matter, reducing compaction, improving the nutrient profile, and working at improving the structure of the soil so that the next season of crops is grown in healthy soils and so that the next generation of our family has healthy soils to continue of family farming legacy. To maintain a profitable family farm, you need to be constantly improving your soils. Decades of cover crop management has shown us the benefits to doing so.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Playing Catch Up.

It dawned on my yesterday that I hadn't blogged for the month of September, at least not on this particular blog. But I have done some writing on various topics so I am going to link those articles here. Being that we are in the midst of harvest and crazy busy kids schedules, when I sit down at the computer, it isn't to write but to do bookwork.

Here is a sampling of what I wrote for other blogs over the last month or so:

National Food Safety Education Month


September was National Food Safety Education Month and I was asked by the International Food Information Council to write about food safety. I chose the title "My 2 BFFs: Water & a Thermometer"



National Farm Safety and Health Week


September was also National Farm Safety and Health Week. I was asked to write about this topic for the Food and Nutrition Magazine. Click here to read this blog: A Closer Look at National Farm Safety and Health Week . Many thanks to my nephew Tyler pictured in the blog for posing while mowing the vineyard wearing all the appropriate garb!


GMOs and Food Allergies



Finally, back in August, I was sent a question from GMO Answers to respond to about food allergies and any connection to the consumption of foods derived from crops that have been genetically modified. That blog can be read here: GMOs and Food Allergies.

And that my friends, is why there was nothing posted on my Foodie Farmer blog for September. Really, I was just remiss in making these links available. I have no other excuse! Thanks for the read!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Non-GMO Food Labeling: Is it truth or deception?

Recently I responded to a tweet from @BioChicaGMO who posed the question:


To which I responded:


As a result, @BioChicaGMO reached out to me and asked me to coauthor a blog for the Genetic Literacy Project. We took differing approaches toward the issue of labeling on Non-GMO foods. Last week the blog was posted:

You may have seen its seal on various products in supermarkets, particularly at Whole Foods.The organization works with three companies or technical administrators including SCS Global Services to evaluate if products comply with its standards. Most recently, it has expanded its labeling services to include restaurants and delis.
The Non-GMO Project claims to verify more than 20,000 products. “We currently have more than 2,200 participating brands, and are receiving an average of 70-80 new verification inquiries every week,” says Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project, was recently quoted as saying. The organization claims sales of its verified products tops $7 billion annually.
For those concerned about consuming GMOs, this voluntary label, together with products that exist under the USDA’s organic label, provides many options. For those who oppose mandatory labeling of GMOs, the label provides an example of how voluntary labeling can work without imposing costs on others.
However, a seemingly grey area exists when a product is labeled as non-GMO, yet a GMO counterpart does not exist. For example, should an avocado be labeled as non-GMO if GMO avocados don’t exist? What about salt? Crushed tomatoes? Arecent article highlighted that some brands of popcorn are advertised as not containing genetically modified corn when there is no genetically modified corn of the popcorn variety on the market. Some people might argue that such labeling practices are misleading and dishonest; others don’t have a problem with it. This article provides opinions from both perspectives.
Labeling as GMO-free is disingenuous – Jennie Schmidt
It seems to me to be disingenuous to label foods as “non-GMO” when the counterpart GMO food doesn’t exist. The “Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966” directs the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to regulate labeling of foods and consumer commodities to “…to prevent unfair or deceptive packaging and labeling of many household consumer commodities.” I consider “non-GMO” labeling to be deceptive when the equivalent GMO product doesn’t exist in the marketplace. It’s akin to the claim that peanut butter is cholesterol free. Since cholesterol is produced in the liver and peanuts don’t have livers, peanut butter has always been cholesterol free.  To advertise it as cholesterol free is deceptive because it wasn’t there to begin with. Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Food Giveaway! Guess the Pounds of Tomatoes in Our 2014 Harvest!

I'm doing my first give away! The person that guesses  the number of POUNDS of tomatoes we harvest this year (or comes the closest) will win a gift pack of Furmano Foods canned tomato products! 

We have 150 acres of "processing" tomatoes this year. That means they are field grown Roma tomatoes that we grow for  Furmano Foods in Pennsylvania. We have been growing tomatoes for Furmano for about 10 years. Its nice to grow for a company whose products are high quality, tasty, and that we enjoy eating!

One of our 2014 tomato fields.
These are cannery tomatoes that go for grocery items like diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, etc... Canned tomatoes are so versatile in so many recipes, I can't imagine my pantry without them!

Here's what the label looks like before they head to the cannery!
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene and provide a good source of vitamins C & A. While they are delicious picked fresh, in season from the field, canned tomatoes are very versatile in many recipes, and are an easy, economical, and nutritious choice. 


They are machine harvested and loaded onto these trailers then hauled to the cannery and within 24 hours are processed into yummy tomato products!
So what do you need to do to win this prize? Guess the number of pounds that we will harvest from 150 acres of tomatoes this year. I will give you ONE clue, we are expecting an "above average" crop this year. I won't answer questions like "How many tons do you typically harvest?" but feel free to do some research on that. You can see, we have filled one tractor trailer load above. There are days when we fill 20 tractor trailers. The cannery tells us how many loads they need per day based on who else in the region is also harvesting. 

Rules:
1. The guess must be posted here in the comments section of the blog.
2. Family & employees are excluded from the contest (sorry Mom & Ernie).
3. I will only ship to a US address.
4. If you are the winner and you are outside of the USA, I will ship it to a friend or family of your choice in the USA or will donate it on your behalf to our local food pantry.
5. Harvest usually takes about 3 weeks, depending on Mother Nature and how well the equipment runs. Sorry I can't give you an "award" date but let's say by early September I should have all the harvest data and can determine a winner around that time. I will update the timeframe on facebook and twitter so you know when we are approaching the end of harvest. 
6. I will close the comment section when the last tractor trailer load of tomatoes leaves the farm. No entries will be accepted after than.
7. That's more rules than I had expected to come up with....

Now... Post your guess in the comments section here on the blog! The person closest to the number of pounds that we harvest wins! Happy guessing!