To Hell With High Seed Corn Prices

I guess I'll be forced to own it now.  I'm a sixth generation Iowan, taken off the land during the 1980's farm crisis, relocated to Des Moines with a federal subsidy as a “displaced farm worker”.  So, I guess I have no room to complain about all them Wall Street Bankers getting federal bailout money.  But when the Savings and Loan in Bloomfield, Iowa collapsed, I didn't get any federal assistance until after my dad decided we had to sell off the farm since I didn't have enough money to pay the taxes.  Too late by then to do me much good. 

After all that hurt, rage, and anger, the last thing I EVER thought I'd be complaing about was the high price of Seed Corn.  But you know what?  Actually feels kind of good now that I find myself in the midst of it.

And why do I find myself complaining about the high price of seed corn these days?  Well, read on, gentle reader, read on… 

Next to Bear Creek Friends Meeting House (ca.1865) in Earlham, Dallas County, Iowa is about 23 acres of open farmland.  This land is held in an estate trust by a member of the Meeting, and was in a 10 year federal “set aside” program until this last year.  The family needs it to make some kind of income, and if no-one steps up to the plate, it could wind up in chemically intensive ag, or worse, development for McMansions.

Or at least that was the threat made, in all probability, to get me off my rear and engaged in meaningful action.

I have this twenty-three acres provisionally leased for this year.  Some folks want to do an exploratory CSA on it, and that's fine.  Now I only have 21 acres to deal with.  It's been in grass for several years, and there IS a limited market for grass hay, but I figure it might be nice to do ten acres in row crop to make sure all expenses are covered. And I guess it's up to me to see that all the expenses get covered since I'm the one signing the lease.  Five acres was in traditional row cropped corn last year, so it's a no brainer to crop that off, and plow under another five acres for corn this year as well.
 
With this thought in mind, yesterday I called to see about buying some seed corn.  To plant 10 acres in corn means that one half unit per acre (40,000 seeds) are needed to ensure a mature stand of 28-30 thousand corn plants (high infant mortality in corn, there is).  Each unit being roughly 80,000 seeds, or one(1) fifty pound bag, so to plant ten acres I need five “units” on hand, just to be safe.  The only seed I could find at the local markets near Des Moines are triple resistant multi-generational hybridized GMO genetically patented seed corn.  This seed is selling for, get this, $200 a unit.  That's one hundred dollars an acre to plant.  And this seed is resistant to herbicides, anhydrous application, etc… None of which I would EVER put on corn.  But, it was all that was available at the first place I called, and I asked the nice young woman on the phone when I would need to reserve the seed to ensure that it was available to me.  She asked me how many units I would need to reserve, and I told her five units.  There was a long pause, and finally she said, “I'm sorry sir, we have a twenty-five unit minimum.” And then just hung up.  Shit.
 
I did some further research, and found some old school “organic” open pollinated seed corn for, get this now, $70.00 per unit at: http://www.openpollinated.com/.  And they will sell one to five units. no problem, no questions asked. Now that is like $35.00 per acre in seed cost.  Hmmmm.  And since I am not planting in high density with all kinds of groovy chemical application, I'm only going to get about 100 bushel to the acre max yield anyway.
 
And this gets better if you think about it like I do.  Since this stuff is “open pollinated” I can save a few patches and hand harvest the best of the best this year, and save 250-300 pounds of seed for next year, no cost for the actual seed.
 
But, [caveat extended] here's the difficult part, in order to plant the seed corn NEXT year, it has to be shelled from the cob, which, if done by hand, manually, would take me all damned winter.  So, in order to achieve a modest “economy of scale” I need to pick up an old hand cranked corn sheller like my granddad and great granddad used to shell off their seed corn.

When the farm crisis in the 1980's took me off the farm we sold off our old corn sheller, so now I don't happen to have one.  And the only one's I've seen around lately are cluttering up the lobbies at all the Crackerbarrell restaurants my Mom makes me go to.  Figures, a nice piece of technological wizardry reduced to wall art. 

After much searching, I finally found a brand spanking new, smaller version, here: http://www.pleasanthillgrain.com/corn_sheller_hand_operated_crank_manual_antique_walnut_stationary.aspx

At $97.00, this is really gonna cut into my operating budget this year, but the savings in time and energy versus hand shelling are worth it. If I have to get a job at Wal-Mart as a greeter during the X-mas season to offset the difference, well, we all have to make a compromise somewhere… 

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