OSAGE | “The biggest change I’ve seen, since I started selling seed, is the changes in technology,” said Ben Johnson, who farms and operates Johnson Seed east and south of Osage. “Customers have gone to no-till and strip-till farming, with the use of seeds that have genetic traits.
Ben, who graduated from Osage High School in 1995 and obtained an American Farmer Degree in 1997, graduated from Iowa State University, with a major in agricultural studies and a minor in agronomy in 1999. Today, he and his wife, Amy, are raising two sons, along with raising a crop farm, running a seed treatment business, and selling both Prairie Brand and Golden Harvest Seed.
Andy and Abby Johnson are also raising two sons on their farmstead on Highway 218. Andy, who also sells Golden Harvest Seed, graduated from OHS in 1998 and went on to ISU, obtaining a degree in agriculture education, with a minor in agronomy in 2002. From 2003 to 2013, he was the Vocational Ag Instructor at St. Ansgar High School. In 2007 he completed his masters degree in professional agriculture at ISU. Now, he farms and operates Cedar River Ag Solutions, which is a data base financial farm management company, which helps farmers make better financial decisions.
Although both brothers sell Golden Harvest Seed, their businesses are run separate. However, they do assist each other when needed. Andy, and his sales associate, Codie Gordon, services the northern part of Mitchell County, and portions of Worth County, while Ben services the southern portion of Mitchell County and portions of Floyd County.
Both said modified seed has revolutionized the seed corn industry, with further research and development being carried on by their parent company, Syngenta.
“The insect traits in corn has reduced corn borer and root worm problems. Because of the BT traits, our use of pesticides has been reduced over the past twenty years,” Ben said.
“One of the big things that corn companies are doing is trait stacking, which is developing seed with multiple traits,” Andy said. “Before trait stacking, only one type of herbicide could be used on a genetically modified seed, where trait stacking now gives farmers the greater option of using different herbicides on the same seed. A lot of the new traits they are coming out with are stress traits to withstand drought and hot weather pollination.
“Today, corn’s maximum growth comes when the temperature is 86 degrees. With hotter days, corn can’t take in enough water, so they are working on an artesian trait, trying to breed into the plant the ability for better water usage.”
“Trait stewardship is another area they are developing,” Ben said. “It takes a long time to develop a trait and get it to market, and then gain approval around the world, so the trait needs to last. They are developing management practices so they can maintain the traits longevity.”
An example of where trait longevity is affected comes when a certain weed becomes resistant to an already used herbicide. A new genetically modified strain of corn then has to be developed, so a new herbicide can be used to control the resistant weed.
Both said they believe, even with GMO corn, the biggest thing farmers can do is to have a clean seed bed when they plant.
While seed companies have been working on input traits such as pest control, weed control and trait longevity, today, Golden Harvest has developed an output trait called enogen, which can be used both in livestock and ethanol production.
An output trait is a genetic trait that makes the harvested corn a more marketable product.
Enogen corn has been bred to produce an enzyme which helps break down the starch content of corn for both livestock and ethanol production. Regular ethanol producers have to add enzymes to break down starches in regular number two corn. Enogen corn enzymes also accelerate the breakdown of corn starches for cattle in feeding and dairy operations.
The Johnson said they believe seed corn companies will continue researching and developing corn traits that will increase production, which aids in helping American farmers to feed the world.