Corn Farmers Coalition

Innovative Farmers Find Opportunities in Challenges

Randy Hughes (Janesville, Wisconsin)

photo by Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer

There’s gold in those blue chips - corn chips, that is. Just ask Whilden Randall Hughes. (You  can call him Randy.)

Randy farms 5,000 acres outside Janesville, Wisconsin. He is the fifth generation to farm the place, part of which was granted to an ancestor by President James K. Polk in 1848. The framed land grant hangs in the farm office with a receipt for a John Deere plow from 1852.

And in at least one way, Randy has gone back to farming the way his ancestors did.

He and seven helpers grow his 1,200 acres of blue corn organically, which has beefed up his bottom line by a third over the last decade. He’s gone back to tilling the soil, for instance, one way to control weeds without herbicides. On his less productive soils - where yield potential tops out at about 100 bushels per acre - growing higher-value, organic blue corn is a great fit. Because the blue corn brings a much higher price, the return per acre approaches that of his higher-producing soils.

“If I can grow 100-bushel with no fertilizer or chemical-input costs,” says Randy, “and I can get a better price for that corn, I’m better off in the long run.

“When yellow corn was selling for $2 a bushel, blue corn was about $7. And I can grow it on my marginal land, allowing a profit off that ground that wouldn’t be possible with commercial grain.”

That’s the way of modern farming; you have to be innovative and flexible, because farming is an even more volatile business than it was just a few years ago.

“We’re back to where we were 100 years ago, where we rely on tillage to do the weed control,” Randy says. “I like working with Mother Nature instead of trying to beat her at her own game.”

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