CORN FARMING IN THE UNITED STATES
Corn / Maize is a major food crop grown widely in the United States. The country is the largest producer of corn in the world with about 96,000,000 acres of land dedicated for it. About 39% of the world’s corn is grown in the US.
More than 30% of the corn farms are operated by women. 95% of the corn farms are family run businesses. Farming practice is based on irrigation in about 11% area and the rest is under un-irrigated conditions. The farm practices implement conservation measures which have reduced soil erosion to the extent of 44%. Corn is mostly grown in the Corn Belt area surrounding the Great Lakes. It is grown in mostly all the states. Iowa is the largest producer of corn in the US followed by Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Alaska, Indiana, Texas and Alabama. Last year the US grew about 15.1 billion bushels of corn and about 14% was exported to other countries. Since US is the world leader in corn and Iowa leads in corn production it is considered as the world leader in corn farming. Let us learn why and how Iowa grows corn so well and abundantly.
Iowa has the most fertile topsoil in the world and has some of the best farmers. It has about 87500 farms and most are owned by families. Iowa also produces soybeans, hogs, eggs, ethanol and Dry Distillers Grains Soluble (DDGS). The corn farmed in Iowa is field corn and only a small percentage (1%) is sweet corn. Field corn is also called Dent Corn because of the dent that forms when it dries. Corn is primarily used for livestock feed, ethanol production and manufactured goods. Other than this, a small portion is used for corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup by humans. Sweet corn is consumed like a vegetable and is bought fresh, frozen or canned, while field corn is used as a grain.
21% of the corn is used for livestock, 39% towards ethanol production, 9% was exported, 12% toward corn processing, etc. Ethanol is a renewal, environment friendly fuel source used in automobiles as gasoline additive. Hence the importance of corn is a factor for its widespread growth and production. It is produced to meet all these demands and much more. Corn can be produced in various colors including blackish, bluish-gray, purple, green, red and white. The most common color grown is yellow. There is one silk for every kernel that grows in an ear of corn. The number of kernels per ear can vary from 500 – 1,200, but a typical ear would have 800 kernels in 16 rows…
Labor is considered at a fixed cost as most labor on Iowa farms is supplied by the operator, family, or permanent hired labor. However, when deciding among alternative crops, labor should be considered a variable cost. The wage rate used here is $14.00 per hour. Crop insurance costs reflect revenue crop protection at 80% coverage for a typical farm in Central Iowa. Nitrogen management is critical for optimal yields in corn production systems. Hence soil management and Nitrogen fertilization practices yield better and increased crops.
Currently soybean production is being increased by farmers in Iowa to get better returns, but corn still leads as the major crop. Hence it is also rightly called the King of Crops. Last year farmers took on the challenge of improving water quality in the corn farms. This year has been better but the efforts are on to sustain and provide better yields. Despite the weather challenges, Iowa managed to produce 2.54 billion bushels of corn. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is continuing efforts to make water quality improvements. The Department announced programs to increase the rate of cover crops in the United States. It has also had more than 2600 farmers willing to try cover crops, no-till, or nitrification inhibitors on more than 270000 acres in about 98 counties. In this respect, at least 600000 cover crop acres were planted last fall.
Corn is usually planted in April – June and harvesting period is October – November. Corn is not a very sustainable crop as it easily depletes nitrogen and nutrients from the soil. It also requires ample water to grow well and this makes farmers dependent on rainfall and irrigation. Iowa has a growing season that is long enough and warm enough to suit corn production and receives enough rain to support healthy corn production. Iowa has deep, rich soils that suit corn’s needs. It produces livestock whose waste includes nutrients that is key to fertilizing fields for better corn production. A wide variety of corn hybrids are available that do especially well in Iowa’s environment.
Corn is planted when the soil is warm enough to germinate the seeds but not so early that the young plants are likely to be damaged by frost. As mentioned earlier, the planting is done in the months of April – June. In Iowa, some farmers begin harvesting corn by mid-September, though most of the harvest is takes place in October. In a cool year, when the corn matures more slowly, much of the crop is not harvested until November.
Modern combines strip the husks off each ear and remove the kernels from the ears as part of the harvesting process. The combine spreads the husks and cobs back onto the field as it moves but keeps the grain in a holding tank until it can be unloaded into a truck. In the field, the cobs and husks are still valuable because they help maintain good soil fertility and structure, just as compost and mulch do in home gardens. A healthy corn plant reaches a height of about 12 feet in height.
Measures and steps are being taken to give equal importance to the rest of the crops grown in Iowa and shift the current trend a bit. But only time will tell how successful this endeavor will be in the future.