KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Lyle Tabb is hoping that his
non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top
dollar for “all natural” eggs.
Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the
process of getting rid of weeds, but also has substantially increased the amount
of a chemical called glyphosate.
The vast majority of corn grown in the U.S. has been
genetically modified to be “Roundup Ready,” meaning it is resistant to
glyphosate, an herbicide that will kill most plants that have not been subject
to genetic modification.
That resistance allows farmers to use Roundup liberally to
kill off weeds that compete with their crops, but some consumers worry about the
effects of the chemical.
“There are a lot of consumers who don’t have enough
information on genetically modified foods to decide for themselves that it is
totally safe to eat,” Tabb said. “And I can understand some of those
Tabb, who grows Roundup Ready corn, as well, said he didn’t
find raising the older non-GMO variety much harder to grow. He said the yield
from his non-GMO fields was the same as those from his GMO fields and that his
costs were the same.
“We’ve been growing GMO corn varieties for about 15 years,”
he said. “Prior to that, everything we got was a hybrid just like it’s been for
decades, without any genetic modification.”
Tabb said he got a little lucky this year because he didn’t
face any major weed problems.
“I didn’t have to spray this year,” he said. “I think
probably three years out of five, you would have to spray.”
Raising non-GMO corn does require more vigilance, he said.
“You have to scout the fields more often for specific types
of weeds, specific types of pests and decide whether you are going to spray or
not, and, if you are, what you are going to use to target those specific
things,” he said.
Tabb sold his corn to Culpeper Farmers Cooperative, a grain
supply company that was looking to roll out a non-GMO chicken feed under the
brand name Virginia Natural, and he got a slightly better price because of the
“The price is enough to cover my added costs in freight,” he
said. “For me, it was worthwhile to take a chance on.”
“It spreads out my risk, because it gives me one more place
to market grain to, whereas right now I am pretty limited as far as where I buy
grain,” he added. “I hope I can grow all the non-GMO corn they want.”
Michael Swisher, spokesman for the cooperative, said it is
too early to say how big demand for the Virginia Natural feed will be — they
just began producing it — but it was something that has been regularly requested
by smaller livestock raisers.
“Primarily the interest has been from the poultry segment of
the market and a lot from the backyard, small flock grower looking for a natural
feed source,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to fill a niche market request, and
it’s something to differentiate our feed mill from the competition.”
Tabb also sold some of his non-GMO corn to Bill Grantham, an
eighth-generation Jefferson County farmer who won the state’s Conservation Farm
of the Year award in 2013. Grantham said the demand for non-GMO eggs is
extremely high, even at higher prices than eggs from chickens that have been fed
“There’s huge demand,” he said. “Believe me: there is no
problem selling them. There is only a problem getting enough of them.”
Grantham said he recently had sold out of the non-GMO eggs —
at $5 a dozen.
“We had both types at market in Shepherdstown,” he said. “I
had 50-dozen non-GMO eggs. I had 25-dozen GMO eggs. I came home with 15-dozen
GMO eggs and zero GMO non-GMO eggs.”
“We do have to charge more for them for the simple reason
that the feed is just about double (the cost) of GMO feed,” he noted.
Grantham said he thinks Tabb is taking a path that will be
followed by more area farmers in coming years.
“Lyle is one terrific farmer,” Grantham said. “He knows what
he’s doing, and I think you are going to see a lot of people come around to
doing it this way.”
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