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Northland: 0% Tolerance of GMOs, Premiums for Farmers

(7 September - Cropchoice News) -- St. Paul, Minnesota-based Northland Seed and Grain is an integrated seed, grain, and food company that goes the extra mile for customers who want to avoid biotech. To do it, the company relies on a careful identity preserved system that pays farmers a premium. In the case of soybeans, Northland is currently offering a 50 to 75 cents a bushel premium to its growers.

Northland markets 31 non-GMO products, many of which are organic, including feed grade grains. Most products are corn and soy-based; but the company also sells wheat, barley, rye, and millet.

Northland is rushing to fill demand for hard to find non-GMO ingredients, including soy lecithins and oils, which it announced this June. One look at the company's six language website tells you a bit about Northland's market: English (of course), French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese.

The company asks a lot of farmers. Its IP system includes testing seed stocks, inspecting and approving storage facilities, and GMO tests during growth and at harvest.

CEO Peter Shortridge, who was recently named Minnesota World Trader of the Year, says that farmers choose to grow for Northland because of 10-15% premiums for non-GMO grain and specialty varieties as well as the possibility of more reliable sales. Shortridge says "The Farmer can also gain some market guarantee (share lock) and multi year contracts for sale of his crop with a price premium."

As to whether or not the extra effort of IP is worth it, Shortridge replies "The fact of the matter is that, in most cases, there is little additional effort and cost to the farmer to IP his crop and maintain segregation, most of the additional costs... are actually downstream from the farmer..."

Once grain is off the farm, the company uses third party verification to certify its non-GMO prodcuts. The availability of such independent services - for both individual farmers and companies - is growing. Earlier this year Genetic ID of Iowa and Lawlabs of the UK announced their shared system, Cert-ID (www.cert-id.com). Other approaches include services like cropverifeye.com, in which records are maintained on the internet.

Northland says that pollen drift, buffers, and GMO contaminated seed are issues it has to deal with; but that growers find the IP system easier over time. On seed contamination - a hot issue in Europe - Shortridge says "we have caught cases where we tested batches of conventional seed from various seed companies [at] over 1% contamination of GMO" He says seed companies and certifying agencies need to raise standards to prevent headaches for companies and growers.

You can visit Northland online by clicking here.