Why Corn is King

By Gary Truitt

It stands, tall and green, rustling in the warm July winds across hundreds of miles of flat, fertile, Midwestern soil. It is the economic lifeblood of thousands of farm families and a major source of employment for millions of people. It is corn, an important part of our nation’s heritage and a key to our nation’s future. Called Maize by the rest of the world, corn would not exist if it weren‘t for the humans that cultivated and developed it. It is a human invention, a plant that does not exist naturally in the wild. It can only survive if planted and protected by humans. Scientists believe that people living in central Mexico developed corn at least 7000 years ago. Today it is a technological masterpiece that continues to increase in production and importance to our nation and the world. Once produced in relative obscurity, corn is at the center of nutritional, economic, energy, and environmental debates today.

This summer, millions of Americans will drive by acres of corn as they dash down the interstate on a family vacation. They will pay little attention to the corn plants they pass, with no idea what they are seeing and the importance it plays in their daily lives. Most people outside of agriculture are under the illusion that the corn they see in the fields is sweet corn. In reality, only 1% of the corn grown in the US is sweet corn. Most consumers are ignorant of the fact that every time they eat meat, drink soda, fill up at the gas pump, use a piece of plywood, wear certain fabrics, throw away a biodegradable package, or fill some prescriptions, they are being touched by corn. Half of all the corn produced goes into animal feed to produce beef, pork, and poultry. Another 25 percent is exported to other nations, 20 percent is turned into ethanol, and the rest is used for food and industrial products.

This amazing productivity is made possible by the tremendous production increases that have been made in corn. Today, farmers grow five times as much corn as they did in the 1930s and on 20 percent less land. Yields of 200 bushels per acre are common today, with more and more growers reaching the 300 bushel mark. Few other plants have seen this kind of yield increase, and researchers say the productive capacity of the corn plant has not yet been reached.

This is good because the demand for corn is continuing to grow. In the past 10 years, global corn consumption has increased 200 million metric tons. That is an average annual growth rate of 20 million metric tons. Improving diets and increasing energy demands have kept the demand for corn on the rise, and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. While corn is grown in other parts of the world, only the Midwestern US has the soil and weather to produce corn in the kind of quality and quantity the world demands.

Read the rest of this article on Hoosier Ag Today here.