Why Do We Grow So Much Corn?

Courtesy of anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Field of Dreams…Field of Corn. Field of Corn Dreams. Children of the Corn? What?

Sometimes that’s how I feel when I ponder: Why do we grow so much corn? If you’ve ever driven in the midwest or more specifically Iowa then you must have noticed that corn is a big deal. This post is just a brief introduction. I’m planning on, over the next few weeks, writing more in depth about why we grow so much corn. I’ll focus on the individual categories of use and explore why corn is seemingly so important in our modern agriculture and diet. And why corn being king might not be in our collective best interest. Please check back for new posts!

In 2010, farmers planted (for all purposes) an estimated 89.7 million acres of corn. That amounts to about 332 million metric tons of corn. So what is it all for?

The breakdown of usage of the 13.1 billion bushel 2009 U.S. maize crop was as follows, according to the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report by the USDA.

5,525 million bu. – Livestock feed (42%)

4,500 million bu. – Ethanol production (34%)

1,950 million bu. – Exports (14%)

1,340 million bu. – Human Consumption (Production of starch, corn oil, sweeteners (HFCS, etc.), grits, corn flour, corn meal, beverage alcohol (10%)

We’re feeding most of our corn harvest to animals as feed. One might be wondering at this point why we would feed corn to a grazing animal like a cow. Good question. This is an interesting question that will certainly require a more in depth analysis.

Remember that guy Michael Pollan or the guys from King Corn? One message you can get from them is that a lot of the food we eat comes from corn. From Iowacorn.org’s FAQ section:

Actually, thousands of products in a typical supermarket contain corn. For many years, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has conducted surveys by sending researchers into a typical supermarket to read all the labels and tally all the products containing corn ingredients. The last CRA study found corn ingredients in almost 4,000 products – and that doesn’t count all the meat, dairy, and poultry products that depend on corn for livestock feed or the many paper products that don’t have ingredient labels but do contain corn.”

We’re also filling up our gas tanks with a lot of ethanol made from corn. Sure, it makes your gas 10 cents cheaper per gallon…but is it all good and no bad?

We’re also exporting quite a bit of our corn harvest. Why are we doing that and who is buying our corn? Right now, I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll be looking in to this.

One last thing.

I think this is an interesting question: where do we harvest the most corn in the U.S.? Here’s a map from the USDA.

This map shows that the majority of corn is harvested in the Midwest. Duh. I find it interesting that entire states are listed under “not estimated” which means their corn harvest amounts to a hill of beans.

Keep checking back for new posts!


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