The corn farmers I work for are not growing corn for you to eat.
There. I said it. One of the largest and most confusing statistics in our industry. Your gut probably tells you that there are ethanol or farm bill analyses that are far more perplexing. But the truth is, this one single fact throws off more non-farmers who are trying to understand agriculture and food production than any other.
Illinois is the second largest producer of corn in the U.S. – behind Iowa. The USDA recently reported that we averaged 200 bushels of corn per acre (up from 178 bushels per acre last year) and a total of 2, 350,000 bushels of corn.
A minuscule amount of that corn is corn you will eat.
The corn that Illinois is so famous for is actually field corn or “dent corn,” named for the dent that forms as the corn dries down in the field. This corn is used for the ethanol industry or to feed to livestock. Or, as is the case primarily in Illinois, for export to other states and other countries.
The corn that most Americans have a relationship with is sweet corn, bred for a higher sugar content and a more pleasing taste. THIS is the corn that you have in cans in your pantry or frozen in your freezer. THIS is the corn you slather with butter in the summer time, smiling with fat drips rolling off your chin.
And yet – less than one percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is sweet corn.
Field corn is our versatile crop. It is used in diapers, make up, and shampoo. It is used to feed livestock and fuel cars. It is also used in the food industry as high fructose corn syrup, in corn bread mixes, corn tortillas and corn chips.
Field corn is harvested in the fall, after the stalks die and the kernels dry down. Field corn is a taller, darker green plant with a small tassel. Field corn is a grain, not a vegetable.
I know, I know.