AG101: What Does Iowa Do with all that Corn?

Cornfield in Illinois - SeptemberWhen I drive across Iowa I am amazed at all the corn I see.  Can all of those beautiful rows really be used and if used… what for??? Iowans cannot surely eat all of it?  That question sent me on another quest for answers to these “corn” questions. Most of the corn growing in the fields across the state of Iowa is field corn.  Not the kind of corn – sweet corn indian corn– you eat off the cob.   So I ask, what is the difference?  It’s all corn, right?  There are four main kinds of corn.  The first is Indian Corn, which comes in a wide range of colors. Because its kernels are covered in a hard shell, it preserves well as an ornament, however it is also edible when ground into cornmeal. 8_17_12 Corn DentDent Corn, commonly called field corn is a high yield, yellow or white corn.  It is a popular American agricultural crop used to feed animals, to make human food (think Doritos™ or corn syrup), and for industrial purposes (think ethanol fuel for cars).  This is the majority of what you’ll see growing in Iowa fields. sweet cornSweet Corn can be yellow or white and is often eaten fresh like a vegetable. On the cob or canned, sweet corn’s high sugar content makes it very palatable. This is the kind of corn that is commonly grown in home gardens. This is the corn you buy at the grocery store whether canned or frozen. popcornLastly there is Pop Corn. Those scrumptious kernels can be yellow or white and have a soft, starchy center covered by a hard shell. When heated, the center expands until it explodes from its shell making what we call popcorn. So, what states produce the most corn?  For more than two decades Iowa has produced the largest corn crop. Illinois and Nebraska round out the top 3 corn producing states.  What factors contribute to Iowa’s ability to remain the top producer of corn?  Iowa has a season that is long and warm enough to accommodate great production.  Iowa gets enough rainfall and the rich deep soil helps the corn plants to thrive. Iowa farmers raise a lot of livestock whose waste provides other nutrients that are vital to fertilizing fields for better corn production. With this new information, I now want to know- if we aren’t eating this abundant yield of corn…what does Iowa do with the corn?  The largest amount of the corn crop goes to animal feed.  One bushel of corn (a bushel is about 56 pounds, roughly the amount you could fit in a small laundry basket) converts to about 8 pounds of beef, 15.6 pounds of pork or 21.6 pounds of chicken.  Corn is also processed into starches, oil, sweeteners and ethanol. Thousands of products contain corn.  One site states corn is found in nearly 4,000 products.  That number does not include all of the meat, dairy and poultry that are fed by corn. When speaking of ethanol as a use for corn, ethanol production plants produce 2.8 gallons of ethanol and about 17 pounds of feed from each bushel of 11561_IowaCornGraphicFinalCS4_061EC056C2291corn. Corn stover (stalks and cobs) can also be used to make ethanol and technology is developing to advance this potential energy source. Simply put, corn takes on many forms and is used in so many ways.  Check out the the Iowa Corn Growers Association education page.  It is amazing the endless things that contain or use corn. The site will educate you on basic facts, consumer information, production, processing and just a hint of all of the things containing corn.  This isn’t corny, it’s just the facts and I am amazed! – Sheri

2 thoughts on “AG101: What Does Iowa Do with all that Corn?

  1. This is why I spent a lot of time talking to people in Iowa when I did the research for my book Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. Hard to beat Iowa for corn production. Iowa also spent much of the 20th century on the leading edge of farming developments. I visited other states in the Midwest, but Iowa and Illinois get the most discussion in the book. Nice to see someone else trying to let people know the importance of corn — and Iowa.


  2. Pingback: What’s Cookin’? Fire Roasted Corn Salsa | Iowa Agriculture Literacy

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