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8 Crops Waiting For You To Grow

Of the hundreds of possibilities, here are eight markets looking for farmers.

1. Malting Barley

Craft beers are hot. There are over 4,000 brewers across the country, and most want to use local ingredients.

Family-owned Rahr Malting Company in Shakopee, Minnesota, contracts with farmers to grow malting-grade barley. The company puts it through the eight-day malting process, then sells it to craft brewers. 

Rahr Malting gets most of its barley from North Dakota and Canada but would like to meet the local demand elsewhere. The company contracts up front for malting barley and pays a price advantage to wheat. 

2. Dry Edible Beans

Edible beans – navy, pinto, black, and a few others – used to be confined to the canned section of your grocery store. Now, they’re in cereals, dressings, energy bars, and even beverages. They’re gluten-free, high protein, high fiber, and low fat. A super food!

ADM has a whole division – ADM Edible Bean Specialties – dedicated to contracting for and processing edible beans. The company is interested in new growers, says Darin Aagard of ADM.

The growing belt is expanding in the Midwest, he says. Black beans are feeling the best demand growth and getting the best prices.

Typical dryland production is around 1,500 pounds per acre. Prices bounce between $30 and $40 per 100 pounds, sometimes higher. A typical ADM contract might stipulate 1,000 pounds per acre at a guaranteed price, and production above that is on the open market.

Edible beans don’t require special equipment, but corn or soybean contamination is considered an allergen and will void a contract.

3. Food-Grade Corn

Corn is a growing food product. Think of the shifting consumer demographics and the demand for corn chips and tortillas.

Derek Rovey of Rovey Seed Company in Farmersville, Illinois, says his food-grade corn business mostly contracts for white corn, with smaller demand for blue corn. The company has facilities in Illinois and Nebraska, and it contracts with farmers in surrounding states.

Rovey Seed will recommend a food-grade seed to buy from your local dealer. It will be non-GMO, but it is otherwise similar to conventional corn.

“Start by picking a bin to designate as your food-grade bin and then plant enough to fill it,” he says. Typically, that’s 80 acres. Yields are slightly less than conventional corn, but price premiums are 10% to 20% higher and sometimes more, says Rovey. 

4. Non-GMO Soybeans

This might be one of the easiest nontraditional crops. Most production practices are the same as conventional soybeans.

Jeff Buresh of BRT Ag and Turf considers his company a link between growers and buyers of specialty grains. “We know the markets and help you find the right seed and the fertility program to produce a nutrient-rich final product that those buyers desire.”

Non-GMO soybeans don’t have the Roundup or Liberty traits, or any of the GMO-based chemical options. Domestic demand is building for both food (cooking oil) and feed (poultry and fish) uses.  

Buresh is in Iowa, but he works with growers everywhere. He says you can start with about 50 acres of non-GMO soybeans and learn identity-preservation practices through to delivery. 

Premiums range from 40¢ to $2 per bushel. “It can make an extra $100 an acre,” he says.

5. Cereal Rye

Farmers in the U.S. have been reluctant to grow this crop, says Sam Schmidt, grain-purchasing manager for Montana Milling. As a result, his company gets most of its rye from Canada.

“We’d like to see more U.S. farmers grow it,” Schmidt says. “We have a growing demand from the baking, brewing, and distilling industries.” Rye is naturally low in gluten.

Growing cereal rye is similar to any other small grain, Schmidt says. Yields are similar, too. “It’s actually more winter-tolerant than wheat,” he says. 
The grain is delivered to one of the company’s plants in Montana. Recent bids have been over $9 per cwt ($5 a bushel), significantly above wheat.

Montana Milling also contracts for barley, millet, yellow peas, blue corn, oats, durum, and triticale.

6. Heirloom Barley

This crop fits best in the semiarid regions of the Plains, says David Vetter of Grain Place Foods in Marquette, Nebraska.

The market is for companion bird food. “A small amount of it is used in specialty bakeries, but the majority goes into high-end bird food,” says Vetter.

The current market is small, he says, “But it’s waiting for development. We would like some farmers to join us to build the market.”

Heirloom barley needs to be grown organically. Vetter offers advice to beginners and says, “Learn organics with crops you are familiar with. If you start with a new crop, that’s two variables at once: organic, and a new crop. Start with something you know and understand.”

7. Broccoli

Pogue’s Run Grocer in Indianapolis is a co-op store owned by its customers. Food co-ops can be good markets for locally produced foods. (Check out ncg.coop.)

Produce manager Michael Yager says one product of interest is local broccoli. “We need a good-quality product that is consistently and uniformly delivered to us every week at a good price.”

What are the standards? “A farmer needs to come in and get to know how we operate,” he says. “Nobody can just show up with a basket of vegetables and expect to sell to us. Building a relationship takes time.” 

Yager doesn’t demand certified organic, but he desires soil-building, no-chemical growing techniques. Also, you need to supply product through a long growing season.

“Our store is a place where local farmers and health-conscious consumers connect, and that’s a trend,” he says. 

8. Carrots

Carrots in the Midwest? Absolutely, says Penny Brown Huber, president of Iowa Choice Harvest in Ames, Iowa. 

Her company processes and freezes vegetables for marketing in grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, and schools. She wants farmers to start at about ½ acre of carrots. “We will help you learn how to grow and harvest the crop,” she says. 

You would need at least a small seeder and a regular mower. A harvest digger would be ideal. “We don’t demand organic, but we prefer at least chemical-free,” says Brown Huber. 

Carrots can produce 13,000 pounds per acre, she says, and ICH will pay about 16¢ per pound. Farmers from Iowa and surrounding states are welcome to email Brown Huber.

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