The Race Goes Not Always To The Fastest



From Gene Logsdon

I am not a real farmer, my neighbors say, because I don’t do it for money. That’s almost funny because the economists are saying that nobody’s farming for money this year. Although the corn crop is good in most of the midwest, there’s not much profit in it. Some go as far as projecting that on average, corn farmers will lose $8 per acre over the whole midwest. If that is the case, I’m not a real farmer for sure because I figure on netting $550 an acre on my corn.

The price of corn as I write is $3.90 a bushel. Some farmers I talk to say they have to have $5.00 a bushel to break even this year because of the high cost of fertilizer, fuel, and weedkillers recently. Economists say the break-even price is closer to $4.00 a bushel. The price seems to be inching that way. Whoopee.

So how do I figure on netting $550 an acre from my corn? I grow only half an acre for one thing, but don’t laugh. My figures would hold fairly well up to thirty acres worth. Comparisons can be odious especially when someone with a feeble little crop like mine seems to be disparaging the professional grower of a couple thousand acres. Nevertheless, I am going to do some numbers because commercial farmers really aren’t thinking very well at the moment and some of them admit it.

Those ears of corn in the photo are from my crop this year. They measure up to 14 inches long, as you can see by the foot long ruler beside them. The longest one has 20 rows of kernels. It will shrink a little as it dries, but as far as I can learn from researching, this is as big as any ear of yellow dent corn has ever gotten and is almost twice the size of any of today’s hybrids. (There are strains of maize in Mexico that produce ears two feet long but are very skinny.) I’ve had in previous years one or two 16-inch ears but they were frowzy on the tips, with only 16 rows of kernels. The fatter, slightly shorter ears in the photo above contain 22 and 24 rows of kernels, and I know from experience that the kernels will weigh as much per cob as those from the 14-inch ears. There will be about a pound of kernels on each of these ears. If I had an acre where all the stalks produced one such ear and I planted 18,000 stalks per acre, which is about right for open-pollinated corn, (hybrid growers are planting as many as 30,000 stalks per acre) the yield would be 300 bushels per acre, right up there with the world records for corn. If I could live 200 years maybe I could produce a crop of all fourteen inchers. After all it took the Mesoamerican Indians thousands of years to get ears of maize up to five inches long.

I hasten to say that most of the ears on my corn are not as big as those in the photo. Most are still bigger than hybrid ears, but some smaller and quite a few nubbins. I will get fifty bushels from my half acre or a hundred bushels per acre this year. Commercial corn growers are averaging 160 bushels per acre, so my corn is deemed to be poor by comparison, giant ears or no giant ears. But let us look at the numbers. My fertilizer cost was zero. I rotate corn with three or four years of pastured clover so I don’t figure I need any more fertilizer. Surely it is significant when 14 inch ears of corn can be grown without any commercial fertilizer at all. My herbicide cost is zero. I control weeds with a hoe and a rotary garden tiller. If I were growing a couple of acres of corn or more, I would have to have a tractor or horse cultivator but that would add only a little to my costs. I paid zero for my seed corn because I save my own. Farmers are spending upwards of $300 now for a bushel of GMO hybrid corn seed, which is just ridiculous. I have no land rent cost because the land is my own. Farmers renting land are paying upwards of $150 to $200 a acre for it or more this year, almost guaranteeing a loss at today’s market prices. I count no labor cost because experimenting with my open-pollinated corn is my golf game and a whole lot cheaper than golf. I have no harvest cost other than husking the ears by hand and throwing them in the pickup. Farmers used to husk 20 acres or more by hand but if you used an old cornpicker instead, the cost would be minimal on 20 or 30 acres except for fuel. My drying cost is zero; the corn dries naturally on the cob in a crib that is so old it has long ago paid for itself. That could be true for larger acreages. Commercial farmers some years (this year for sure) have a huge cost in natural gas to dry their shelled corn. My hauling cost amounts to driving my pickup 500 feet from field to crib. Commercial farmers are hauling their corn in semi trucks half way across the county, sometimes farther. I do have fuel and machinery cost for plowing and fitting the land which I estimate at about $30 per acre. I put my total cost per acre at $50 to be sure to cover everything.

Growers of open-pollinated corn tell me, as I have also experienced, that livestock eat it more eagerly than today’s hybrids. And why not. Hybrid corn is bred today to resist injury from machinery, weeds, bugs, and adverse weather. Why wouldn’t it resist animals and humans trying to eat it? Commercial corn is dried by heating, sometimes overheating, with natural gas, which can reduce nutritional value. I don’t know how to put a dollar number on that kind of profit.

If my 50 bushels are priced at $4.00 a bushel, that’s $200 worth of corn or $400 an acre. With a cost of only $50 on a per-acre basis, my net profit per acre is $350. If I had to buy those fifty bushels from the elevator, the cost would be around $6.00 a bushel (the elevators charge for handling, especially for handling and bagging small amounts), so I can say that my puny crop has a net return of $550 per acre. Compare that with losing $8 an acre on 2000 acres.

Whose the real farmer? One I know well farms 200 acres. He has most of his acres in rotated pasture and maybe 30 acres of corn— a commercial model of what I do. He will have more machinery and fuel costs per acre than I do, but he will have no fertilizer, chemical spray, drying, or transportation cost to the elevator. He does not use high-priced GMO seed corn. His machinery cost are much less than that of typical grain farmers because he is using older, smaller tractor equipment. His total costs will be only a fraction per acre of the large commercial grain farmer’s costs. Then he feeds his corn to his cows to make organic milk and sells it at a premium price.

So I ask again: who’s the real farmer?


Well Gene,

I might actually do that, stop by and get a bit some time. I do live in Ohio and if you sent me some contact info so I could call or e-mail ahead of time I may do it. I assume you have my e-mail address since I provided it in order to put my post on here, if not you can go to my business web site at and fill in the contact information. I don’t mind providing my web site address for all the world to see since it is a business web site. I’m not in the seed business either. My business is trumpets and brass instrument repairs. Well if you ever decide you want to try some of the Leaming corn which originated in Ohio just let me know I’d be happy to send you a sample.

Don Miles

Don, I am in a sort of jam about selling and trading corn. Being something of a public figure, I get many requests and it would take lots of time to sell and trade through the mail. If I do it for one, then I’d feel obliged to do it for all. If you came by here, I’d gladly give you some. Right now, I don’t want to mix my corn with any other on my place. I’m afraid the cross pollination might set me back rather than move me ahead. But thanks for the offer. Gene Logsdon

I grow Leaming corn an open pollinated variety that was developed in Ohio. As far as I can tell from old books it is the oldest improved variety of field corn in America. According to some of the old authors it was the most popular yellow field corn grown. Some say Reid’s yellow dent was the most popular and some say Leaming.

My Leaming is what was known as improved Leaming but it also has some ears of the original Leaming in it. I am trying to isolate the two. I think the improvement in the improved leaming was the kernal shape which was more consistant and maybe allowed for a more consistant seed shape for planters. If you ask me the original Leaming is more consistant in quality and the ears look to me to yeild just as well.

Would you be interested in trading a pound of my Leaming seed for a pound of your Reids?

Don Miles

HI Gene,

I’m a long time follower and big fan. Thanks for keeping me interested over the years of being close to the soil. I think you priced your corn incorrectly. We are not comparing apples to apples here. Most GMO corns are only 4-5% protein and I bet your is 10-12%. Yours also is higher in minerals and vitamins than the GMO’s also. So it would take double to yeild to get the same amount of nutrition, maybe more. The price of your corn should be 8 to 10 dollars a bushel. Farmers that grow higher quality and more nutrient dense foods should demand higher prices for em. Ya don’t pay chevy prices for a lexus do ya?

Kevin, I don’t think there are any OP corn dealers in my area anymore. You can find plenty on the Internet. My corn is about 120 days to maturity, too long for you I think. It’s standibility is only fair if we get a wind storm. This year no wind, good standability. Gene

Gene, as a long-time reader of your common sense and highly useful writings, I am delighted that you have lurched up into the blogosphere. Keep on keepin’ on!
Gene GeRue

Hi Gene,
I,m interested in trying some open pollinated corn here in Ontario Canada but am having trouble sourcing suppliers locally. Can you suggest any suppliers from your area who might ship small quantities into Canada for test plots i.e. a few pounds. Roughly how many days to harvest with the Reid’s yellow dent and how is it for standability


    I grew blue hopi dent corn (from jung seeds) with good results here in nw ohio. Don’t know how far north you are in Ontario. Like gene says, do some research on the internet and you should find some that could fit your need.


Good to see you now have your own blog. A great place for a chat and a cup of coffee. Well wishes to you and Carol.

I’m not sure I know how this new blog works. This is a test message to see what happens. By the way, I don’t really like these narrow columns. Perhaps better just have a front page listing current postings with links to the actual writings in a format like you had in the previous blog.

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