Dan Dietz cleans seed

Dan Dietz cleans seed on his Nashua, Iowa, farm. He grows some non-GMO soybean  and rye for for his own farm and sells some seed to his neighbors.

Despite being relatively new to growing seed in 2019, Dan Dietz said he and his brother Drew faced and overcame many of the same challenges they are used to as conventional farmers.

Weather was a major factor for the Nashua, Iowa, farmers, and making sure they got the seed crop out at the right time was extremely important.

One challenge last fall was getting the harvested seed down to the right moisture level, around 13% or less in some cases.

Despite some of the struggles felt across Iowa, Dietz said the ground was favorable for their harvest.

“You can’t dry beans anyway,” Dietz said. “With the weather the way it was, it wasn’t an issue. We have good and marginal ground, and we got lucky we can combine everything in a matter of two or three days. We can put the hammer down — and that’s why I have two combines.”

Dietz, who grows around 300 acres of small grains, started growing non-GMO seed soybeans and rye. He and his brother have also discussed starting to grow seed corn.

In a time of depressed markets and tighter budgets, growing seed has been a help.

“It’s saving us a lot of money even if we don’t (sell it), but we have the option to sell it to neighbors if we do want to because we do buy from Iowa State and pay them a premium,” he said. “We also have it inspected, registered and certified.”

The major setback for those looking to get their own seed cleaner set up is the initial cost for the equipment, Dietz said.

Doug Greeson of Middlekoop Seed in Packwood, Iowa, said production has been strong for a couple of years for their seed corn operation, and demand hasn’t dropped for their product.

“Most farmers are going to plant corn anyway, so they are going to keep buying,” he said.

He said a big part of their operation — seed cleaning — grew by word of mouth. Starting out with just one seed cleaner in a shed, they were working on 5,000 bushels of seed. That doubled each of the next two years to 20,000 bushels, and they had two seed cleaners by 2019. He expects to see about 30,000 bushels come through his cleaner this year.

Greeson had some luck this past year, getting all the June-planted crop out before the freeze hit portions of the Midwest this past October.

Due to that freeze and the current coronavirus pandemic, some producers were worried about supply and deliveries. But with agriculture deemed an essential business, delays haven’t caused an issue yet, Greeson said.

“(There was) a little concern about getting their corn, but with ag being a priority, you know, we’re able to get our delivering done,” Greeson said.

Pricing for Middlekoop’s seed corn typically hits markets based on the fall numbers, so the recent commodity downturn hasn’t affected the company too much, Greeson said.

Dietz, while not operating at a commercial level, sees some benefits from selling his seed locally, with the added premium of his non-GMO options.

“It’s huge because beans, let’s say they are $10 per bushel, seed beans are $40. We have to pay Iowa State I think $2.50, and it might cost me a buck to clean them,” he said. “So you do the math. If you start taking that over 500 acres, holy cow, that gets exciting.”

Dietz said growing seed is “extra paperwork,” but there is nothing inherently hard about it. He said the main facet to keep in mind is keeping equipment clean, especially in the case of non-GMO seeds.