Rural Issue

Enogen vs. food grade: A coexistence issue in Nebraska


Coexistence is a growing challenge with more farmers turning to value-added specialty crops and new crop protection products.  In part one of our four-part series, we look at a situation in Nebraska where growers of food grade white corn have concerns with the increased acres of Enogen, Syngenta’s genetically modified, high-amylase corn for use in ethanol production.

Nebraska is the number one producer of food grade white corn in the U.S. But many producers are concerned that the growing presence of Enogen corn may eventually force them to stop growing white corn and lose what has historically been a 30 to 50 cent per bushel premium.

Southeast Nebraska farmer Mark Jagels of Davenport, a former chair of the Nebraska Corn Board, says the concern is cross-pollination.

“It breaks down the starch in my white corn—and makes it basically useless,” Jagels says.

He says his white corn buyer has a zero tolerance policy for Enogen contamination because it creates problems for food processors who use it to make tortillas, corn chips and other products.

Jagels says Syngenta’s stewardship guidelines for Enogen are not stringent enough to prevent cross-pollination.

“Their buffer is 30 foot right now, which under ideal conditions, with no wind during pollination, I’m sure is good. But how many times in Nebraska do we have no wind.”

Scott McPheeters, who farms near Gothenburg in central Nebraska, produces food grade white and yellow corn for Frito-Lay and is also a member of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. He shares Jagels’ concerns.

“I think everybody wants to do the right thing and everything is done to keep things segregated, that can be done,” McPheeters says. “However, there are things that are beyond control, like wind or storms. If you have a windstorm, pollen will go miles and miles and miles.”

But Chris Cook, head of stewardship for Syngenta, says their research shows a 30 foot buffer is enough to prevent cross-pollination in most cases.

More on this coexistence issue is our next report.

AUDIO: Mark Jagels


AUDIO: Scott McPheeters



Coexistence is a new buzzword in agriculture for the use of different farming practices in close proximity to one another. Here’s part two of our four-part series on a Nebraska coexistence issue involving Enogen, Syngenta’s genetically modified, high-amylase corn for ethanol.

Jeremy Rau of Bruning, Nebraska, who has been growing food grade white corn for 20 years, had his first experience with Enogen cross-pollination last fall. Rau says pollen from an Enogen field across the road drifted into his white corn field.

“We got a positive test up to 120 rows into the field—we were able to pick that and separate it,” Rau says. “We ended up grinding it for high-moisture cattle feed to keep it out of food grade production.”

Which cost Rau the premium he would have received on that white corn. Rau’s white corn buyer has a zero tolerance policy for Enogen contamination.

Mark Jost of Henderson, Nebraska, says he had a similar experience when Enogen first came on the scene there in 2014.

“We cut about 400 to 500 feet off the end of 400 acres that we had to bin separately—and it was contaiminated,” he says. “We tested it and it wasn’t going to meet specs.”

Since then, Jost says he’s tried to work more closely with neighboring growers to avoid cross-pollination issues.

“We all got to try to work through it, but it’s becoming a bigger problem all the time,” he says.

White corn grower Nate Goertzen of Henderson says he hasn’t had any contamination issues up to this point, but he’s concerned nonetheless.

“I understand that they’re trying to make a living, as I am. We’re all trying to get along as best we can,” Goertzen says. “But going forward, in a year or two or three, how much more Enogen is going to be planted? Then it could be more of an issue surrounding you.”

Syngenta says it is working to help growers avoid cross-pollination issues. More on that in our next report.

AUDIO: Jeremy Rau


AUDIO: Mark Jost


AUDIO: Nate Goertzen


Part 3

Growers of food grade white corn in Nebraska say cross-pollination issues involving Enogen, Syngenta’s genetically modified, high-amylase corn for ethanol, are threatening the state’s white corn sector. They say it may eventually force them to stop growing white corn and lose what has historically been a 30 to 50 cent per bushel premium.

Here’s part three of our four-part series.

Nebraska white corn growers, some of whom have been growing the crop for 20 years or more, say Syngenta’s stewardship guidelines for Enogen are not stringent enough to prevent cross-pollination. They say the 30-foot buffer requirement for Enogen is not sufficient.  But Chris Cook, head of stewardship for Syngenta, says 30 feet works in most situations.

“The truth is, corn is actually one of the worst pollinators out there. It drops at a foot per second and it doesn’t go very far, very fast,” says Cook. “So as we developed that policy and worked with folks on that, we landed on 30 feet—it seemed to be the right answer.

“That doesn’t mean it stops everything. It means that 30 feet really should solve any issues that are out there.”

Cook says good communication and cooperation between neighboring farmers is the key.

“We really want to work with the neighbors on what the right number is. If they’re going to plant a sensitive crop as well, how can we work together to make sure that, if we’re doing 30, are they doing something similar? Or what works best for everybody?”

Cook says Syngenta also has an online Enogen Field Finder program and tries to have signs on all fields that will be planted to Enogen by the end of March.

Dan Kristensen of Minden, Nebraska grows Enogen corn. He agrees that good communication is important.

“A guy can plant a border, but if you don’t talk to your neighbors and if you’re not diligent about being friendly—which is not very easy to do sometimes with your neighbors—networking with your neighbors is probably key in that situation for any niche market,” Kristensen says. “So man up and talk to your neighbors.”

Coexistence issues are also a concern to the National Corn Growers Association. We’ll hear from them in our next report.

AUDIO: Chris Cook


AUDIO: Dan Kristensen



An official of the National Corn Growers Association says communication and cooperation are the keys to coexistence in different cropping systems. Here’s part four of our four-part series.

The white corn/Enogen cross-pollination issue in Nebraska is just another example of the coexistence challenge facing agriculture. NCGA’s Nathan Fields says good communication is key.

“Growers out there, they’re in their own communities—and the better that they can communicate, the better tools that they have to let each other understand what their crops are doing, how they’re specializing, is the first and critical step for coexistence to move forward,” Fields says.

Unfortunately, communication between neighboring farmers isn’t what it used to be, says Nebraska farmer Mark Jagels.

“Not every producer talks to their neighbor,” Jagels says. “I mean, it’s a competitive world out there and a lot of producers are either trying to rent more ground or expand their operations—and they really don’t let producers know what they want.”

Fields agrees the rural landscape has changed, “but even if they are farming further away or renting ground, they need to be part of the community that they’re farming in—to understand their neighbors and respect the crops that they’re growing.”

Fields says the ag industry must continue to develop and utilize new tools, such as FieldWatch and DriftWatch, to help prevent coexistence conflicts among farmers.

AUDIO: Nathan Fields

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