SALEM, Ohio — With the steady growth of Roundup-Ready soybeans and disease- or insect-resistant corn, there’s a new niche for non-genetically modified grains.
The Fowler Mill in Geauga County is one of a growing number of mills looking for non-genetically modified grains to grind into corn meal or flour meal.
Non-genetically modified grains are raised under the same practices as other grains, so it’s not necessarily organic. It’s the genetics that separates non-genetically modified grains from GMO, or genetically modified organism, varieties. Genetically modified grains have been changed to include genes to tolerate the herbicide Roundup or genes that fight off certain diseases.
Fowler Mill owners, Billie and Rick Erickson, use the meal to make mixes for strawberry tarts, blueberry tarts, apple crisp and pumpkin-flavored baked goods. The mill then sells its products through farm markets and specialty stores.
“We are always looking for non-genetically modified grains for milling, but it is difficult to find them. We buy the whole grains and grind them ourselves,” said Billie Erickson.
Billie said there is a perception in some of the population that non-genetically modified grains are healthier, but there has been no scientific evidence that it is true.
Instead, Rick said, the demand for non-genetically modified corn and wheat is tied directly to flavor.
“non-GMO grains tend to be more flavorful and some suspect they are healthier,” said Rick.
However, because of the features seeds can contain because of the genetic modification, farmers tend to plant only genetically modified grains.
“They trade off the flavor in non-genetically modified corn and wheat for the better yields or pest control,” Rick said.
The Ericksons contacted Orwell farmer Rick Humphries to consider planting some non-GMO corn for their mill.
Humphries said he had to do some research to find the seed and finally found some available in Lancaster, Pa.
“I was surprised how difficult it was to find. Suppliers laughed when I told them what I was looking for,” said Humphries.
Humphries said one thing is clear — there is a market for non-GMO grains. He said a second customer contacted him about planting additional acreage in non-GMO corn, but this spring’s weather stopped that from happening.
“I may do more in the future, though,” said Humphries.
This year, he has 12 acres of non-GMO corn planted for the Fowler Mill. He planted it May 10 right along a field of genetically modified corn. So far, it looks just as good as the genetically modified corn — without the higher price tag.
Humphries said it costs $50 per acre to grow the non-GMO corn and it is costing him about $100 per acre for genetically modified corn.
He farms about 200 acres a year of corn and soybeans and maintains a full-time off-farm job in sales.
Jeff Simmons, owner of Simmons Grain in Salem, Ohio, said there is definitely a market place for non-genetically modified and organic grains.
Simmons Grain sells organic soybeans to feed markets that use it to produce feed for livestock such as organic chickens. The same is true for organic corn.
Non-genetically modified corn such as white and blue corn is milled into products consumers use for cooking.
Simmons said there is a need for the best of organic wheat to be milled for flour to produce cookies, cakes and breads.
The wheat that doesn’t qualify for milling is also used in organic livestock feeds.
Simmons added that non-genetically modified soybeans have a worldwide market. He added that non-GMO soybeans are exported to countries mainly in Europe. There is a premium paid to farmers for raising such crops, but that doesn’t always mean there is a steady supply for consumers.