Leaps and Bounds: The Exploding Demand for non-GMO Animal Feed
Demand for non-GMO feed is growing significantly according to feed suppliers who say that increased consumer awareness of GMOs and growing demand for healthier foods is driving demand.
“Growing by leaps and bounds”
Several feed suppliers report exponential growth with requests for feed coming from all over the country.
“The demand is huge,” says Dan Masters, president of Ohio-based Hiland Naturals, which supplies non-GMO and organic soy- and non-soy feeds. Masters says his company is seeing 40% growth per month and will open three more facilities by the end of the year.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” says John Yantis, owner and manager, Texas Natural Feeds, which sells non-GMO feeds primarily for chickens. Yantis has seen his sales have increased from 20 tons per month to 100 this year and says it could soon reach 150 tons.
Diana Ambauen-Meade, owner of Washington state-based Scratch and Peck Feeds, sees similar growth. “We see it growing exponentially every month. This time last year we were selling 100 tons a month and now it’s pushing 270 tons per month,” she says.
“In the past two years we have seen a 150% growth in customers and demand for all of our non-GMO feed products,” says Spencer Sorenson, mill manager for Oregon-based Buxton Feed Company.
Will non-GMO displace organic?
Steve Chambers, president of Montana Specialty Mills, sees stronger demand for organic feed than non-GMO. “The organic feed market is developed while non-GMO is transitioning to become more established,” he says.
In fact, Chambers is concerned that the growth of non-GMO could hurt organic farmers. “Will it displace organic farming? Non-GMO could come at the expense of farmers who are trying to do everything right. It is one aspect of crop production but allows farmers to continue using chemicals. Organic is the whole package?”
Montana Specialty Mills, Hiland Naturals, and Texas Natural Feeds also sell organic feeds; all Scratch and Peck feeds are non-GMO and organic.
Non-GMO feeds are made from a range of ingredients including corn and soybeans, field peas, alfalfa, grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and milo, and protein meals from soy, canola, safflower, camelina, flax, and peanut. Some feeds will have one or two ingredients while others will have many. Non-GMO feeds are given to hogs, dairy and beef cattle, chickens, turkeys, goats, horses, rabbits, and even elk and deer.
Increased consumer awareness driving demand
Suppliers say that growing consumer awareness of GMOs is driving demand.
“There is an increased awareness of GMO and non-GMO in the past year or so with states trying to pass GMO labeling laws,” says Darwin Rader, international sales manager, Zeeland Farm Services, Inc.
“There’s more awareness of what GMOs to do humans and animals,” says Sheldon Swartzentruber, sales representative with Missouri-based Hostetler’s Feed and Farm Supply, which supplies non-GMO feeds for hogs, dairy cows, and chickens.
“People are getting the connection that what people feed their animals is very important,” says Ambauen-Meade.
She and Yantis also attribute the strong non-GMO demand to the growing backyard chicken raising trend.
Whole Foods’ announcement last spring that they would require GMO labels on products in their stores by 2018 is also driving demand for non-GMO feed.
“I had a lot of supply before Whole Foods’ announcement but now we’re moving product,” says James Frantzen, who recently launched a non-GMO feed operation in Riceville, Iowa.
Challenges: tight supply, lack of knowledge of suppliers
While demand is strong, Frantzen sees supply challenges. “There aren’t enough non-GMO crops to even meet the feed needs for Niman Ranch (a leading natural meat producer),” he says.
“The market is tight. There are a limited amount of suppliers in the US. We could use more non-GMO soybean production,” Rader says.
“There is definitely going to be a need for more supply,” Swartzentruber says. “We’re finding it harder and harder to find the supply.”
Greek yogurt maker Chobani cited the shortage of non-GMO feed when they were targeted by consumer advocacy group GMOInside about their use of GMO feed. Chobani responded by saying that they would need adequate supplies to feed “78,000+ cows, across 875+ farms surrounding our plants.”
Sorensen says another challenge is a lack of information about non-GMO supplies. “Producers are not aware that there are non-GMO alternative animal feeds on the market.”
The key to increasing the supply is increasing non-GMO crop acres.
“It will take consumers telling food companies they want non-GMO and the companies telling farmers this is what we need,” Masters says.
Farmers will also need to earn enough money to go non-GMO. “As the marketplace changes and demand increases that will drive prices (for non-GMO) up,” Rader says.
Feed suppliers such as Hiland Naturals, Zeeland Farm Services, and Hostetler’s Feed and Farm Supply pay farmers premiums of $1.50 to $2.00 per bushel above commodity prices to grow non-GMO soybeans.
A growing number of feed suppliers are having their products verified with the Non-GMO Project.
“People are skeptical that you are non-GMO. Third party verification provides assurance,” Masters says.
“It’s easy to say you are non-GMO but labeling and verification is becoming more important,” Ambauen-Meade says.
Buxton Feed opted to have their products GMO Free certified through Green Star Certified.
“We wanted to have the backing of an organization to help the creditability of our non-GMO product line,” Sorenson says.
The market for non-GMO feed received a boost recently when the US Department of Agriculture approved the Non-GMO Project’s label for meat and liquid egg products. In order to receive this label, meat and egg producers must meet the Non-GMO Project standard, which involves having animal feeds tested for GMOs.
Overall, non-GMO feed suppliers like James Frantzen are happy with the increasing demand. “I’m in the right place at right time,” he says.
Suppliers of non-GMO animal feed
Buxton Feed Company, 503-707-1809, email@example.com
Hostetler’s Feed and Farm Supply, 417-345-7935, firstname.lastname@example.org
James Frantzen Farm Services, LLC, 641-257-8122, email@example.com
Montana Specialty Mills, 801-476-0277, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scratch and Peck Feeds, 360-318-7585, email@example.com
Texas Natural Feeds, 254-829-1317, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vlieger Farm Supply Inc., 712-567-4151, email@example.com
Zeeland Farm Services, Inc., 800-748-0595, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken is editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report. He can be reached at email@example.com.