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Ron Meyer, GPA Extension AgnetRon Meyer, Area Extension Agent - Golden Plains Area
Date: 3/21/2011
Questions? Contact Me

Steve Scott, Chairman, Colorado Corn Administrative Committee

Its cultivation is thousands of years old. Corn has been planted in this country since before the first Pilgrims landed. It can be harvested for food, fiber, feed, and even fuel. As a result, Corn is one of the most versatile crops currently grown in the United States. Driven by technology, genetics, and innovation, American farmers today produce more than 13 billion bushels per season.

So what is corn used for? Currently, there are more than 4,200 uses for the crop. Ranging from aspirin to alcohol, from dyes and inks to disposable diapers, from sausages to surgical dressings, from industrial chemicals to industrial sweeteners. Corn is even used in medicines such as antibiotics. And speaking of medical uses, research is continuing regarding employing technological advances to enable corn plants to produce insulin.

One bushel of corn usually weighs 56 pounds. One bushel of corn can produce: 31.5 lbs. of starch, or 33 pounds of sweetener, or 2.8 gallons of fuel, or 22.4 lbs of polymer, or 17.5 lbs of distillers dried grains (livestock feed), or 1.5 lbs of corn oil.

In the last 20 years the impact of growing corn is that the amount of land needed to produce 1 bushel of corn has been reduced by 37%, the energy needed to produce 1 bushel of corn has been reduced by 37%, and the emissions emitted to produce 1 bushel of corn has been reduced by 30%. Further, innovations in the corn breeding industry have allowed corn farmers to produce more corn using fewer pesticides than previous generations, in effect producing more corn with a smaller environmental footprint. Henry Wallace, former Secretary of Agriculture, states, “United States Farmers in the Corn Belt have developed the most productive agricultural civilization the world has ever seen.” In 2009, corn farmers produced 461% more corn than in 1939, on 2% fewer acres. Clearly, with less than 2% of the U.S. population feeding the other 98%, American farmers are doing good things.

Research with corn has indicated the crop may be able to replace some oil-based fuels. Researchers have discovered new ways to convert corn into bioplastics and fabrics, products where petroleum typically dominates. In fact, it is becoming more common to find corn-based plastics in utensils, gift cards, safety seals, snack chip bags, water bottles, and more. Corn bio-materials are being spun into other products such as fabrics, replacing nylon and polyester made from petroleum. Further, corn based fibers are spun into carpets, keeping them not only soft but stain resistant. Furthermore, imagination and ingenuity are continuing to find new products from this crop.

Corn farmers are currently growing both fuel and feed from the same bushel. When a bushel of corn is used to produce ethanol for fuel, a by-product is produced called distillers grain. Distillers grain is a high quality feed that livestock producers feed to animals. Ethanol plants use the corn kernel’s starch, the rest of the kernel is used as livestock feed. No waste products. In addition, according to USDA, one acre of corn removes 8 tons of CO2 from the air per season. As this plant is “inhaling” CO2, it is “exhaling” O2 and one corn acre produces enough to supply oxygen for 1 year to 131 people. Last year, American farmers planted 88 million acres of corn.

Americans continue to spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than almost any other nation. In 1979, Americans spent 14% of their personal consumptive expenditures (PCE) on food. In 1989, Americans used a little under 10 percent of their total PCE on food at home--the lowest share in the world.

Most of that food dollar spent does not end up on the farm. For example, a standard box of corn flakes contains approximately 10 ounces of corn, or about 1/90th of a bushel. When corn is priced at $5 per bushel, that’s only about a nickel’s worth of corn.

Corn is a more significant ingredient for meat, dairy and egg production. Still, corn represents a relatively small share of these products in terms of retail price. It takes about 3.6 pounds of corn to produce one pound of pork (live weight), about 32.1 cents worth of corn when corn is $5 per bushel.

Labor costs account for about 38 cents of every dollar a consumer spends on food. Packaging, transportation, energy, advertising and profits account for 24 cents of the food dollar—with energy costs having an even greater impact as oil prices rise. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, marketing costs (the difference between the farm value and consumer spending for food at grocery stores and restaurants) have risen from 67 percent in the 1980s to 80 percent today. By contrast, agricultural productivity has increased 200 percent from 1948 to 1994, with no increase in overall inputs.

Continued advances in agriculture and in particular corn production will enable our farmers to continue to deliver a dependable and affordable product. While we Americans spend only about 10% of our disposable income on food, Sudan residents spend nearly 63% of their PCE on food.

BNET – Business Publications
National Corn Growers Association – 2011 World of Corn
Corn Farmers Coalition – Corn Fact Book