FIELD CORN? SWEET CORN? WHAT!?

CornFieldPicture yourself on a nice cool night driving down the interstate when you get a sudden rumble in your stomach. You’ve just realized that you forgot to eat dinner before you endured on your journey.  However, you are surrounded by cornfields so you’ll just pull over and grab an ear, right?

Wrong.

This corn that you so commonly see if referred to as “field corn.” Field corn is used for livestock feed, ethanol production, manufactured goods and as a food ingredient in the form of corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup.  It is not edible to humans in its current form.  It is also known as “dent corn,” because each kernel has a small dent on the end of it. Field corn accounts for more than 99 percent of the corn acreage in the United States. This corn is the type that you will see in bins or flats and most often stored at grain elevators. As far as the geography of corn goes Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota account for over 50 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. Other major corn growing states are Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky. Also, Corn is produced on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica.

sweet corn field cornThe delicious salted buttery corn you are thinking of is most commonly called “sweet corn.” Sweet corn is consumed as a vegetable and makes up less than 1 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. each year. This corn has more of an “about to pop” look to it and is not dented at all. It is usually boiled or grilled and then lathered with butter and salt, and is a notorious Midwestern summer snack.  Sweet corn is said to be most delicious eaten straight off the cob, (which I agree with) but is also cut and bagged or canned a good amount of the time. Over 700,000 acres of sweet corn are grown in the United States each year for both fresh market and for processing. This may seem may seem like a lot of corn but it is less than 1% of all corn grown in the U.S. each year!

As far as the history of corn goes, it is native to the Americas. The earliest known evidence of domesticated corn is 8000 B.C. in what is now the Rio Balsas region of Mexico, grown by ancient Indians. Indirect evidence suggests corn may have been domesticated even earlier, perhaps 10,000 years ago! It makes me happy to know people have been enjoying this scrumptious snack for this long.

Next time you’re driving down the road next to a big open cornfield, remember the difference between what you’re seeing (field corn) and what you’re eating (sweet corn) ..

Happy Eating!

Nick Rumbold
ICMB social media intern

BONUS VIDEO!! – Differences between sweet corn and field corn

CORN PRODUCTION IN THE UNITED STATES

MQuigley_InfographicThe United States is the leading producer of corn in the world, and as could be assumed, corn is number one in America’s crop production. In fact, corn production is approximately two times the amount of any other crop in America. While the U.S. leads in production, some areas of the country, predominantly the Midwest, have more fertile lands that are full of nutrients that support the growth of crops, like corn. The expansive area of fertile land is known as the Corn Belt, and it is responsible for producing more than one third of the nation’s corn. Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana are the top five producing states in the U.S. They, among seven other states (Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, and South Dakota), make up the Corn Belt of America.

CornField

Corn is not as simple as corn. There is a clear distinction between field corn and sweet corn. Both are grown in America, but field corn is more widely produced and accounts for approximately 90% of the nation’s corn growth. Therefore, when you see a corn field, it is likely field corn that is being grown. Visually, field corn that has matured has a distinctive dent in each kernel. Perhaps not as well known, field corn plants are quite tall, dark green in color, and are harvested when the plant has matured and the stalks begin to yellow. There are a number of uses for field corn, including exports, ethanol, and food ingredients and products. The United States is the largest exporter of corn in the world, and it is estimated that the U.S. will export 1.1 billion bushels of corn for the 2012-2013 growing season. Aside from exports, one bushel of corn is capable of producing 2.7 gallons of ethanol. About 40% of the field corn produced goes towards ethanol production. Eight bushels of corn has enough calories to feed a single person for a full year. What is a bushel, you may ask? Well, a bushel is a measurement of weight that is equal to approximately 56 pounds of corn.

MQuigley_EarCornImage

While it may seem that field corn fully embodies the word “corn”, there is another type. Sweet corn accounts for less than 5% of the nation’s corn growth. However, sweet corn is what you eat directly… during the summer, at picnics, at fairs. Sweet corn is eaten on or off the cob, grilled or boiled. It has rounded kernels, unlike the dented kernels that field corn has. The plants, themselves, are shorter and more yellow-green than field corn plants and are harvested while the plant is immature and still green. It is bred for an increased sugar content that is evident in its “sweet” taste. Whether it is field corn or sweet corn that is being produced, the average American farmer produces enough corn to feed 155 people. Corn production is a significant component in American society, economics, geography, and culture.

MeganQuigleyMegan Quigley
University of St. Francis Student