The Many Uses of Corn

It’s fall in Nebraska, and that means a lot of fun for Nebraskans! Between Halloween, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, leaves changing, and cool nights by a campfire, Nebraska is a pretty great place to be! But even more exciting is, you guessed it, Husker football games! It is quite a site to see Memorial Stadium packed to the brim with Nebraskans decked out in red shouting “Go Cornhuskers!”. Wait a second, what is a cornhusker? A cornhusker is a person or device that removes the husks from corn. Why are we called the Cornhuskers? Nebraska is one of the top corn producing states ranking third under Illinois and Iowa. Continue reading

Why Do Farmers Let Their Corn Die in the Fields?

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“I don’t understand! If farmers are feeding us corn, why are they letting it die before we can eat it?”

This is a question that has maybe crossed your mind a time or two. Here in Nebraska, we like to eat corn. We like it off the cob, in our casseroles, or served on the side of a delicious summer hamburger. But who in the world would like to eat dead corn? Let me explain…corn2As you can tell from the pictures, there is a big difference between the corn you eat (left) and the corn that you see in the field (right). Sweet corn is the kind of corn that you would buy at the grocery store in the summer and eat when you get home.

“If sweet corn is used for food.. then what is this field corn used for? And why do farmers plant it if we don’t eat it? Tell me about this field corn!”

Field corn is used to make a whole bunch of things. It is essential to our state, country, and world. Without it, we simply could not create a majority of things we use in our every day lives. Here a few of the MANY things you can find corn in…

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Not only is it an important component to all of these products, but also to a multitude of others. Field corn is also used as food; for an example, corn is used as cornstarch, corn oil, and corn syrup, three very popular ingredients in food. “Wow, I had no idea that is a few reasons why we plant so much corn; I did not realize it was so essential! Tell me though, why do we have to let corn die to use it in all of these products?corn7In the picture above, this ear of corn is ready for harvest. There are a multitude of reasons why farmers allow it to get to this point so we can use it..corn6

Harvest: Farmers have to wait until it all the little kernels are completely hard before they can be picked. If they were still soft, the kernels would break and result in losing all of their starch, a huge factor in creating many products.corn4

As you can see, a large portion of the kernel is full of starch. When the kernel is still soft, all of that starch will escape the kernel as it is still in a liquid form, leaving little behind for the use of the many products we need. When the corn fully matures (yellow), then all of the liquid starch turns into a solid starch through a process called “denting”.

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You can see the seed change from a milky substance into the solid starch as the corn plant matures. The last seed shown is ready for harvest!

The corn in the field is not necessarily dying, but drying. By drying out the liquid starch (milk stage), the corn can be harvested and used for all the necessities you and I need! From glue to corn flakes, cattle feed to fuel, corn (the dented field corn) is not only a complement to our society, but also a crucial source to create so many things. Without corn, a nation would simply not be born!

Laura Lundeen bio pic

What’s the difference between field corn and sweet corn?

A reader asks, “What’s the difference between field corn and sweet corn?”

A Tale of Two Corns

When you’re driving down a highway in the Corn Belt and see acre after acre after acre of corn, don’t jump out and grab an ear for some impromptu corn on the cob. Chances are, it’s the wrong sort of corn.

There are two corns in the United States, and field corn is by far the most common, grown on more than 99 percent of all corn acres. While a small portion is processed for use as corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup for human consumption, it is primarily used for livestock feed, ethanol production and other manufactured goods. It’s considered a grain. Sweet corn is what people purchase fresh, frozen or canned for eating. It’s consumed as a vegetable. Unlike field corn, which is harvested when the kernels are dry and fully mature, sweet corn is picked when immature.

The following statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will give you a sense of the size of these two vastly different industries.

 

Field Corn:

  • 91.9 million planted acres
  • 12.4 billion bushels produced
  • Crop value: $76 billion

Sweet Corn:

  • 656,600 planted acres
  • 166.3 million bushel equivalents
  • Crop Value: $1.2 billion

What do some of these words mean? A bushel of corn is 56 pounds, about the weight of a large bag of dog food. An acre is about the area of a football field.

How Field Corn is Used

In 2011, corn farmers grew 12.4 billion bushels of field corn. The total corn supply, including the corn carried over from 2012, is 13.5 billion bushels.

34 percent of the field corn supply in the United States (4.6 billion bushels) is used as feed for livestock such as beef, pork or poultry.

29 percent (3.9 billion bushels) is used directly for ethanol production. This excludes the corn that goes into ethanol plants and becomes distillers grains, the equivalent of 1.2 billion bushels of corn for livestock feed, 9 percent of the total corn supply.

12 percent (1.6 billion bushels) is exported to other countries. The top five countries to which the United States exports corn are Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Egypt and Taiwan.

10 percent of the corn (1.4 billion bushels) goes to other food, seed and industrial uses. Field corn is a source of high fructose corn syrup, corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup. Hundreds of other products are also derived from corn, such as some fabrics and packaging.

In addition, about 7 percent of the total corn supply (currently 900 million bushels) is carried over as a surplus for the next year.

Source: National Corn Growers Association, Fast Facts

Keep asking great questions!

Learn more about ag in Nebraska by visiting www.nefb.org. And while there, be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.