Renewable Farming

Non-GMO livestock feed mills springing up across the Midwest

Gilbert Hostetler, who heads Prairie Hybrid Seeds of Deer Grove, IL, is another “biological farming” advocate who sees good news coming for non-GMO grain growers.

He reports, “There are three new non-GMO feed mills in the Midwest — one in Iowa, one in Wisconsin and one in Pennsylvania. Two of them report they can’t keep up with the demand.”

Prairie Hybrid Seeds raises and sells only non-GMO seed. Much of their production comes from their farm near the seed facility, which we’ve visited. The firm’s patriarch, H. W. Hostetler, has passed away but remains a legend for advocating a living, healthy soil as the foundation for vigorous seed.  On one visit many years ago, H. W. led me into a field with knee-high corn and said, “See how far you can dig into the soil between the cornstalks — with your bare hand.”

I began pushing my hand into the loamy soil, which had a texture like coffee grounds. Without much effort, I gophered my hand and forearm underground, almost up to my elbow. 

H. W. always carried a well-polished spade to the field, and next he popped a corn root from the ground. The root mass was slightly bigger than a soccer ball, and the soil clung to a huge matrix of fibrous roots. 

“These roots will reach out clear to the row centers by silking time,” he reassured me. One key to the tilth in that field was the farm’s composting operation. Another was their unique form of ridging soil, then planting in the split ridge. But mainly, here was an example of intense biological activity — undamaged by anhydrous ammonia or heavy applications of high-salt fertilizers.

Gilbert remains an advocate of season-long fertility applications, foliar feeding as the crop needs nutrients.  When Bureau County ran into a late-season dry stretch last summer, Gilbert says “I was reminded by a mentor to spoon feed the seed field. We ended up with a very good yield for that variety.”

His advice to seed clients:  “Keep feeding that plant with proper nutrition and she will repay you. One of our customers added a little extra nutrition to his corn crop and that’s all it took for a 20 to 50 bu. yield increase. Think of it this way: When profits are low, we don’t short ourselves on food. We look at other places to cut expenses.”

 Published Feb. 9, 2016 by Jerry Carlson