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TBF 050 :: GMO vs. Non-GMO Feed, a Brief Farm Update, and a Hard Lesson Learned

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Practical_Farmers_of_Iowa_horizontal_logoDon’t forget about the upcoming Practical Farmers of Iowa Farminar featuring “The Beginning Farmer,” Ethan Book.

Tuesday, February 18th 7:00 – 8:30 PM CST
“Making Niche Pork Work for You at Any Scale”

 

Non-GMO2If you are interested in farming or the world of food in general you have probably heard something about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). It is a topic of debate for many in the food and farming industries, and it is even something that crosses my mind from time to time. In fact, it is a topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately. To be completely honest I have actually been thinking about whether or not it would be a good thing for our farm to make the transition to Non-GMO feeds for our farm. I can’t explain exactly why this is a direction that I began thinking about, because honestly I haven’t paid much attention to the debate. Maybe it is just my contrarian attitude or maybe it is because my “gut” is just telling me to think about it. Either way I wanted to take some time on today’s show to talk a little bit about my thoughts on the possible move from GMO hog/chicken feed to a ration using Non-GMO grains.

In fact I didn’t just want to stumble my way through 20 minutes of talking about something I knew very little about so I decided to do some research. The fruits of my reading research are in the links below, but to be completely honest I don’t know if any one article convinced me completely of anything … except for maybe one …

Ethan’s Amazing Research on the Topic of GMO vs. Non-GMO Feed From the First Three Pages of the Google Search Results

Here is the article that made the most sense to me … at least when it came to my unscientific mind.

  • “The Post-GMO Economy” :: From “Modern Farmer” this article talks about a farmer in my general neck of the woods who has made the switch from GMO crops to Non-GMO crops … mostly from a financial point of view.

As you can tell from reading the articles you can find all sorts of evidence to prove either side of the argument, which is why I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you just need to go with your gut and the experience of those that you trust … or at least that is what I lean on sometimes.

Finally, here is the link to the blog post from farmer/listener Chris who took the time to e-mail me this week.

As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I’m thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn. If you do enjoy the show, don’t forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with “The Beginning Farmer” and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links …

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Anastasia February 12, 2014, 7:05 pm

    Hi Ethan, thanks for citing my post “Lack of care when choosing grains invalidates pig feeding study”. In this post, I provides science-based evidence showing that the researchers didn’t use the right feed in the study to test what they claimed to test. Unfortunately, this invalidates their entire study.

    As you say in this post, “you can find all sorts of evidence to prove either side of the argument”. The problem is that some of this evidence is science-based while some is emotion-based. There’s certainly nothing wrong with using our emotions to help inform our decisions, but when we are talking about science it’s usually a good idea to start with the science.

    It’s great that you are investigating the topic of GMOs. There’s lots to learn, both as a farmer and as a consumer. You’re always welcome to visit Biofortified.org to ask questions. We are an independent non-profit organization with no industry funding that strives to provide science-based info about GMOs and other topics in agriculture and food. We have a forum where you can start a conversation about anything! http://www.biofortified.org/community/forum/

    You might also find GMO Skepti-Forum interesting. It’s a group of scientists, farmers, and just about everyone else that loves to discuss the science and try to get past that emotion-laden “evidence”. http://www.gmosf.org/

  • Ethan February 12, 2014, 8:41 pm

    Anastasia, Thanks for taking the time to comment and sharing the links for those that want to continue on their research.

  • Rich February 13, 2014, 11:39 am

    For what it’s worth, I agree with most of what you said, except that I’m skeptical that there is a significant difference between GMO grain and conventional grain. But, if the customers say they want non-GMO fed meat and the price difference wasn’t that much, I would probably agree that switching to non-GMO grain might make sense.

    The only problem I can see is that some people seem to confuse non-GMO grain with organic grain and I’ve seen where people also think that GMO wheat and GMO oats are being grown. SO, the customers that say they want non-GMO grains need to know that non-GMO aren’t necessarily Organic, etc.

    Saying all that, I grow a little bit of grain sorghum conventionally (fertilizer, preemergant herbicide, etc.) , and if I ever grew corn I would probably grow a conventional variety using the same methods to save a little money on seed costs (using the same logic in the Modern Farmer article and because I’m also in an area where the yield potential is lower).

    The price for grain sorghum used to be about 10% less than corn because the feed value is supposedly only 90% of the feed value of corn, but this year the price for grain sorghum and corn was the same, which almost seems like I’m getting a small premium for my sorghum. Most of the locally grown sorghum goes to pork operations somewhere in OK, so maybe more farmers are switching to a non-GMO feed without talking about it. At this point, I’m just glad there is some sort of market for any grain sorghum I happen to grow.

  • Shelly February 13, 2014, 12:18 pm

    I’ve been listening to your podcast since the beginning and I thoroughly enjoy it. I’m not a farmer, and don’t intend to become one, but I enjoy food that is sustainably and responsibly raised and grown.
    I’m not very scientific, but as a consumer I feel like consuming gmo crops is not a risk that I want to take. Perhaps continued research will prove that there is no need to be concerned, but I would prefer to wait until that time to feed those foods to my family. We certainly aren’t perfect, since gmo crops are so widespread, but I’m happy to hear that you’re considering making that switch.
    Have you been considering switching to organic feed at the same time? I feel like that might be a logical step too, but one that would probably be costly.
    Thanks for providing such an enjoyable show to listen to!

  • Ethan February 13, 2014, 12:36 pm

    Rich,
    That’s a good point on the perception of Non-GMO as the same as organic. In fact I think it would be easier for me to switch to Organic feed as opposed to just Non-GMO feed just from a logistical standpoint. Right now my sticking point is Non-GMO soybean meal … it is difficult so far for me to find, but I have found multiple sources of Organic soybean meal that actually are fairly close to the farm considering and there are multiple farmers in the area close by growing Organic corn that I could purchase right out of the field.

    I have talked to multiple hog farmers doing Non-GMO and they have each said they noticed a difference in herd health … of course this is just anecdotal, but it does cause me to think about it more.

  • Ethan February 13, 2014, 12:42 pm

    Shelly,
    Thanks so much for listening to the show! Like I said I haven’t done a lot of research into this topic (beyond what I shared on the show), but I feel like I do remember somewhere reading that there have been a lot of scientific studies proving there are no problems related to GMO … of course I have also found scientific studies that try to prove those studies wrong … it seems like it just goes in circles 🙂

    As far as organics go I do think that is actually the most logical step and would probably be the direction I would go if I was able to raise my own feed. Because I’m not raising my own feed the cost seems very prohibitive and even if I passed it on to the consumer I think I would have a tough time with it … that discussion is certainly in the mix though. The biggest thing holding me back from organic though is a couple of discussions I’ve had with farmers direct marketing pork who were organic … the just felt like they couldn’t make any money with it and continued it almost as a loss-leader (or break-even) for the other organic products they had.

    Thanks so much for adding to the discussion!

  • Tim February 13, 2014, 12:59 pm

    Sorry to hear you lost the litter. What a bummer, but you’re right, it is a good lesson to learn that you should trust your gut and go with what works for you. Hope you enjoy this warm-up that we are getting!

    • Ethan February 13, 2014, 1:05 pm

      Thanks Tim! Maybe we can get you guys out to the farm soon so you can motivate me to finish up the hoop building!

      • Tim February 13, 2014, 1:26 pm

        Aw-yeah.

  • Matt February 13, 2014, 3:10 pm

    Ethan,

    As a beginning hog farmer myself I have looked into the GMO vs. non GMO discussion. As you covered in your podcast there is anecdotal evidence, some science and a lot of emotion that “proves” both sides.

    In my area, and at my scale, non GMO feed is prohibitively expensive (130%+ more than GMO) and it is far from readily available. The suppliers I talked to basically indicated that while they could get it, they didn’t really want to and they weren’t sure they could reliably get it. It’s of little advantage to me if I can’t get it consistently and relatively easily. The extra cost and effort of obtaining it is completely erased if I run out and my supplier can’t or won’t get me more.

    The real question is, will my customers pay the premium for it? In my case, the answer is yes, err, maybe, err, sorta, err, no. At the end of the day, some will and smile while doing so, and some don’t care. I don’t really see anyone going out of their way to not buy a non-gmo fed hog, but you never know.

    I think this all is going to change in the coming years. We will see a change in consumer desires to that they will demand non-gmo feed (it’s already starting), and feed mills will follow that trend to supply the farmers with grain (already starting too). Some of the change will be emotion based backlash, mostly it will be meeting market demands. Eventually non-gmo crops will become more popular among farmers, and subsequently mills. Maybe the science is real, maybe it’s not. But the market will always follow the demand, no matter what it’s based on.

    In a few years feeding GMO / non GMO will be box we check when we order from the mill and the non GMO will be a small, if any premium as more grain farmers produce it.

    Until then… well… you already answered that question.

    • Ethan February 13, 2014, 11:10 pm

      Matt,

      The scale of which you would use Non-GMOs and the availability are huge factors for anyone thinking about this. I feel like the only way that I can do it in a financially and emotionally sustainable way for our farm is if I begin grinding my own feed. That brings with it lots to think about and plenty to spend money on. Grinder/mixer, soybean meal storage, am I going to store corn on farm, then I’ll need a grain bin, what about getting the corn dry, then I’ll need a grain dryer, what if someone else stores it, then I have to pay for storage … so many things to think about!

      Another thing that I’m going to look into … ground field peas as part of the ration and to help with the protein content. But, really I feel like the only way it is possible is if I’m working with a local farmer and a local’ish source for the soybean meal and I’m grinding the feed myself.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion!

      • Rich February 14, 2014, 12:51 pm

        If you are planning on going the feed mill route, I would think that you would need to get something like a grain truck (2 ton truck with a 16′ bed with a tarp and a hoist) to haul and store your main feed ingredients like corn, and your soybeans, etc. would just be bought in those 1 ton super sacks as you needed them.

        Roll the tarp over your truck bed and park it in the barn and you can store your corn easily without really needing a grain bin (you should be able to store about 250-300 bu. easily on a typical 16′ grain bed). Grind your feed as you need it, filling up your gravity wagon and feeders, and you don’t need to worry about storing much feed. Change your mind about the whole feed grinding idea and you should be able to sell the truck for what you originally paid for it.

        • Ethan February 14, 2014, 7:51 pm

          Rich,
          We could do that, but a gravity wagon would probably work just as well and then I don’t have another motor to deal with 😉 The real question in my mind though is where is the Non-GMO corn stored? I would need a farmer willing to hold onto it through out the whole year … and sometimes they like to sell if the market is up or they need to pay bills. Lots to think about that’s for sure!

  • Bill February 24, 2014, 8:28 am

    First of all I just want to thank you for your excellent podcast. I enjoy listening to it while I’m doing my chores. Thanks for taking the time to put it out so faithfully.

    I just listened to Episode 50 and thought I’d share my experience. Last year we switched from GMO feed to GMO-free feed. We decided to go that route because avoiding the use of GMOs fits better with our farming philosophy and better matched the interests and desires of our customers. I was nervous about making the switch. Whereas I can get GMO feed in any quantity I need from our community feed store, the source of the GMO-free feed is more distant and requires a long drive. It’s also considerably more expensive. I also worried that our pigs wouldn’t grow as fast after the switch.

    Our experience was entirely positive. Our customers seemed pleased with our decision and we had zero complaints about the price increase it required. Best of all, and surprisingly to me, our pigs put on weight faster on the GMO-free feed than on the GMO feed. We also made the switch with our chickens and our layers also did better on the GMO-free feed.

    My experience is antectdotal of course and our results could have been caused by other factors, but we are very glad to have made the switch. Like you we’re now investigating ways to produce our own non-GMO feed locally.
    Good luck as you go forward!

    • Ethan February 25, 2014, 1:44 pm

      Bill,
      Thank you so much for listening to the show and for taking the time to comment! I love hearing your feedback because you are actually doing it. You’ve made the switch and now you can talk about it … that is so cool! I would love to have you on the show sometime if you’d be able to. It would be awesome to hear what went into your thought process when you were thinking about making the switch and more details about the results and feedback you’ve received.

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