MORAN — In order to thrive, today’s farmers must find ways to cut costs without sacrificing yields, Darin Williams notes.
“We think we’ve found a way to do it, with no-till practices and cover crops,” said Williams, president of Natural Ag Solutions LLC, which opened its doors in November at the old Ensminger Seed and Grain facility north of Moran.
Williams and his father, Doug, have worked to provide an outlet for farmers such as them, utilizing non-genetically modified seed, in order to maintain a profitable operation — and to remain good stewards of the environment.
“I started no-tilling and began using cover crops in 2010 at the same time,” said Williams, who farms near Waverly. “Once I saw the weed control I could get with cover crops, I thought it was a no-brainer to go back to conventional non-GMO seed, because it was cheaper.
For the past two decades or so, farmers have favored those genetically modified crops, impervious to Roundup and other products.
But if those weeds can be controlled through natural means — cover crops, for example — it means crops can be planted without the more expensive GMO seed.
“So, regardless of whether I get a premium for my grain (which is often the case with non-GMO products) I’ll still save on input costs,” Williams.
Natural Ag Solutions offers a full variety of non-GMO seed, including Willcross and Emerge Genetics brand soybeans and Willcross, Emerge and Agrigold brand seed for corn — both food grade and commodity grade. Wheat, oats, barley and a whole host of other seed varieties are available.
Additionally, the Williamses also distribute Green Cover Seed for cover crops — those which are not harvested, but instead used to protect the soil.
There are probably 70 to 80 different kinds of seed we can can get,” he said.
Eventually, Williams hopes to take advantage of the 120,000-bushel storage capacity his venue offers.
“Our original goal was to become a distribution center,” he said. “We’re not giving up on that. It just may not happen right away.”
Right now, commodity prices are still too low for the Williamses to serve as a distribution center for harvest crops.
“But we’re still getting plenty of calls about it,” he said.
THE NATURAL Ag Solutions complex, about a quarter-mile north of the U.S. 54-U.S. 59 intersection in Moran, also has about 12 acres of cropland, ideal for setting up test plots, “to show people how to use less chemical and less fertilizer,” Williams said. “We will have test plots for the beans, corn and cover crops for folks to stop in and look at as spring moves along.”
An open house is in the works for later this month, to show off the refurbished offices and other improvements to the shop and storage bins.
Williams hopes to host field day events through the year when the need arises.
“We’re big into soil health principles, and we’re trying to learn more ourselves about organic material, readings in our soil,” he said. The healthier soil is less prone to erosion and more receptive to retaining water.
“I know there are some guys who will never go back (to non-GMO) because of the weed control issue,” he said. “But there’s still a market for what we provide.We certainly want to produce a high-quality product, and get it in the hands of the people who want it.”
He hopes to see that interest grow locally as more producers become aware of his operation.
In addition, Williams sells non-GMO feed rations for poultry, swine, dairy, beef and other livestock, and deer plot mixes as well. Natural Ag Solutions also serves as a retail center for such things as bird seed.
“We also clean corn here for guys who want to buy corn for their turkey or deer feeders,” he said.
WILLIAMS and his father are from Waverly, where they operate D&N Ag Farms.
After considering building a new facility near their hometown, they learned late last year the Ensminger Grain facility was for sale.
“Because of this place’s location, and the cost compared to setting up a new facility in Waverly, we agreed to pursue what we wanted to do down here,” Williams said.
Although some of the equipment is new — a pallet wrapper, for example — most of the equipment was kept.
“We had some typical repairs,” he said. “New bearings here, a few chains,” he said. “There’s nothing here that’s not typical of any seed company.”
The Williamses already have received a warm greeting from the community. He hopes that continues as more folks learn of the operation.
“We’ve gotten a lot good feedback,” he said. “People here have accepted us.”
Williams notes three of the five employees — he and his father are the other two — are from Moran.
Williams and his wife, Nancy, also operate Green Pastures LLC, which offers other natural food products, such as eggs from free range chickens, free range broiler chickens and free range turkeys.
For more information, call (620) 237-4221.