Ohio Farmers Looking At Old Crop to Help with New Economic Problems

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Steve Waddle's dusty boots are as gray as the dried corn stalks he stands on, here in his corner of the corn belt about an hour west of Columbus. For over ten years, Waddle has alternated his corn plantings with genetically-modified soybeans because they are easy to grow, safe and had been cost-effective...until recently. Last year, agribusiness giant Monsanto raised prices on Round Up herbicide and genetically modified soybean seed citing growing demand. The price of production for Waddle and other farmers suddenly skyrocketed.

Steve Waddle: Because of the economic conditions last year when our expenses rose drastically and that carried over to into this year and then grain prices dropped, we needed to find other ways to make a profit.

So this year, for the first time in years, he's back to planting conventional soybeans - ones that haven't been genetically modified.That's a real niche market given that only five to ten percent of Ohio's soybean production is of the non-genetically modified variety.

Steve Waddle: These are food grade beans and they carry an incentive along with them. We'll get up to $2 extra per bushel, based upon how well we do, over what the regular beans would bring.

These conventional soybeans fetch a higher price, according to Ohio State University agronomist Jim Beuerlein because of global demand. He says customers in Japan and Europe prefer non genetically modified soybeans even though there is no scientific data to show any health benefit.

Jim Beuerlein: There's not very many of them around, there's a big demand, so companies are paying farmers extra to grow that crop.

One of the biggest buyers of conventional soybeans in Ohio will surprise you. Honda Motor Company used to send its shipping containers home empty after delivering car parts. Employees in Marysville, Ohio decided to ship back soybeans in the containers. And why not? The US is the world's largest soybean grower. Joe Hanusik is plant manager at Honda subsidiary HAPI Ohio. He signed a record number of farmers this year to plant non genetically modified soybean seed.

Joe Hanusik: This year we are producing roughly 45 thousand acres of non GMO soybeans. Last year we were right around 25 thousand acres.

And that interest is spreading to seed companies. John Suber runs Ebberts Field Seeds in western Ohio. He says his company usually has booked all its seed orders by January. But he was surprised when he sold out of non genetically modified soybean seed early.

John Suber: Well we've had calls clear through February and March of people wanting them and we have upped acreage for next year's sales - doubled it - so we anticipate that demand continuing to grow.

Back at the Waddle's farm, Steve's son Mark is getting started on 200 acres of non genetically modified soybeans. The family figures they'll spend about $350 to $400 an acre.

Steve Waddle: You know the current bean price is $9...I just called this morning, it's $9.38. If I get a $2 premium that'll actually be all the profit I'll have. So that's why we're doing it: To try and get a little bit of extra money.

Waddle is considering this year's foray into non genetically modified soybeans an experiment. He's curious to see if he can control the weeds without too much extra work and still make money. He'll have to wait till September when the beans are harvested to find out for sure but he's hoping it's a good bet.

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