If you’ve driven through Illinois, you’ll remember fields and fields of corn along our (sometimes dilapidated) scenic interstates and highways. It’s true, corn is a very popular crop in our state and one that supports the Illinois economy in many ways.
For a moment, let’s review that the corn you see growing in Illinois is not sweet corn. Sweet corn, bred for its sugar content, is the corn you enjoy off the grill, out of a can, or frozen from the grocery store. But this corn makes up less than 1% of the corn grown in Illinois. Most of the corn is field corn or dent corn, bred for its starch content, and used to make corn meal (rarely), to feed livestock, and to fuel our vehicles.
So where does all this corn grown in Illinois go?
Well, according to the best available data we have on the 2016 crop – data from the 2017 crop isn’t finalized yet – most of that corn is exported out of Illinois and likely used to feed livestock.
To be fair, we can’t know exactly what the corn is used for once it leaves our state, but we do know that 41% of the corn grown in Illinois is exported.
Why is export the largest market in our state? Because we have a unique position on the Illinois and Mississippi River that gives us very competitive access to transportation to get that corn out of the country. Buyers and get our corn delivered to them more cheaply, so they tend to buy from us instead of from other states.
If a semi load of corn in Illinois isn’t leaving the state, it’s probably being used for ethanol production. Thirty-one percent of the corn grown in 2016 ended up at an ethanol plant and became the cleanest burning fuel option American’s have.
Interesting to note, much of the ethanol produced in Illinois also leaves the state for other countries. Those rivers, man! They are a BIG advantage.
The rest of the corn is used for processing (23 percent) and livestock feed (5 percent). Livestock feed is an easy one to understand. Five percent of the corn grown in Illinois is fed to livestock living in Illinois.
But this 23 percent processing number is more complex. It basically includes everything else that we use corn for. This is where the human food use for field corn is (cornmeal, tortillas), but also where all the industrial uses are lumped. Corn is used to make diapers, gum, lollypops, crayons, and many, many more products! So many that 23 percent of Illinois corn goes into those markets.
Here’s the shocker though – fifteen percent of the corn harvest in Illinois is sitting unused in a pile or in a bin somewhere. We grow more corn than we can use! This is why we are always looking for innovative ways to incorporate corn into our lifestyles to make our products better. And this extremely versatile crop delivers!!
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director