Farmer chooses non-GMO crops
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 09/25/2012 10:43 AM
STEWARTVILLE, Minn. — Keith Schlapkohl isn't afraid to experiment with his crops.
Schlapkohl, a Stockton, Iowa, farmer, and part owner of FHR, Inc., spoke at last week's FHR Field Day north of Stewartville on Sept. 4. On Sept. 6, he hosted a field day on his farm, part of FHR's Field Day Frenzy.
Schlapkohl raises non-genetically modified corn and soybeans. He had raised Roundup Ready soybeans for 10 years and corn for three years, butseveral factors came together to encourage him to grown non-GMO crops.
He didn't want to pay the tech fees and he wanted to keep his own seed. And he met Don Huber, a Purdue University emeritus professor, who argues that genetically modifying corn has made the plant more susceptible to disease and less able to reach it's 1,100 bushel per acre genetic yield potential.
He met Huber in 2008 and his life hasn't been the same since, Schlapkohl said.
He has unlearned what he learned at Iowa State and has studied what Huber says. Huber's research from the mid-1980s at Purdue exists, but is hard to track down because the professor has the only copies, Schlapkohl said. It's in a storage locker somewhere.
Schlapkohl said there is no easy way to raise corn and soybeans, rather it's a process of experimentation involving genetics, fertilization, management and other systems.
He admits he spends more money year in and year out than do his colleagues who grow glyphosate-resistant crops, but his yields are better than theirs.
He uses Group Risk Income Protection crop insurance, and has beaten the county average by a minimum of 30 bushels per acre and a maximum of 100 bushels for corn. For soybeans, he's beaten it by a minimum of 15 bushels per acre and a maximum of 50 bushels over the past 10 years. His GRIP premium is the same or lower than the Revenue Assurance or Crop Revenue Coverage insurance available to him.
The guys who pounded the stakes for his 100-acre non-GMO corn plot estimated his yield at 247 to 287 bushels per acre from the 60 varieties planted there. Farmers around him are predicting they'll harvest 35 bushel corn.
Huber said that's because genetically modified corn is less stress tolerant. It takes two times more water to produce one pound of dry matter from Roundup Ready corn than a non-Roundup Ready hybrid, he said.
The area of east central Iowa where Schlapkohl farms has received 4 to 4.5 inches of rain since the corn was planted.
Schlapkohl said he's applied six foliar treatments to his corn this summer and a foliar treatment was applied to his soybeans the day he spoke near Stewartville. He was going to hire another soybean treatment if the beans showed a response in three to five days.
Schlapkohl studies his crops, spending one to three hours a day in his fields. He was antsy to get home after his stop at Stewartville since he hadn't been home for days after a visit to his daughter in Sacramento over Labor Day weekend.
He admits that his farming techniques draw questions.
"I am the village idiot and that's all right," Schlapkohl says.
Science is a moving target, he said, anyone who doesn't believe that must believe that the world is flat and DDT has no harmful side effects.