First domesticated by the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica, corn, or maize, is undoubtedly the most-grown crop in the U.S. today. The U.S. grows corn on such an enormous scale (333 million tonnes) that we produce almost three times more tonnes than the next leading country, China. The ability to harvest corn so efficiently and on such a grand scale did not develop in North America until after World War II, before which harvesting involved a huge, on-foot labor force. Despite our incredible domestic consumption of corn in everything from fodder to ethanol production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that we still export about 1,859 million bu. of the crop to other countries.
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Corn is regarded as the most important crop in terms of production and acreage growth. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. is the leading exporter of corn, currently accounting for 20% of the world’s corn, and the major producer of corn, accounting for 39% of the world’s corn production in 2010. Most of the crop us used for livestock feed, accounting for over 90% of feed grain use and production.
Corn is a staple for everyday life and is used for various reasons, primarily for food products, ethanol, and livestock feed. The demand for corn continues to rise because the market for food made from corn is growing in the U.S, as is a heightened demand for ethanol. Major usages are as follows:
- 39.4% — Feed & Residual
- 15.2% — Exports
- 10.5% — Food, Seed, and Industrial Use (FSI) excluding Ethanol
- 34.9% — Food, Seed, and Industrial Use (FSI) including Ethanol
During processing, corn may either be wet or dry milled depending on the desired use. Wet millers process corn into syrup, oil, starch, glucose and dextrose, beverage alcohol, industrial alcohol and fuel ethanol. Dry millers process corn into cereal, flour, corn grits, corn meal, and brewers grits for beer production. It is expected that food uses for corn will expand at the rate of population growth.
Around 80 million acres of land are planted to corn. Corn is grown in most U.S. States, but production is mainly in the Heartland region — Iowa and Illinois being the top corn-producing states, but also grows in South Dakota and Nebraska, western Kentucky and Ohio, and the northern two-thirds of Missouri. In the U.S., corn growing season begins in April and extends through November. Planting occurs in the months of April through May, and once the crops have matured, harvesting typically begins in the middle of September until November.
- Ethanol: Ethyl alcohol, or grain alcohol, is used as an alternative fuel. Ethanol fuel is produced by fermenting and distilling grains, primarily corn.
- Metric Ton, or tonne (MT): A metric system unit of mass equivalent to 1,000 kilograms, or 2,200 pounds.
- Yield: Also referred to as “agricultural output”, crop yield is the measurement of the amount of crop that was harvested per unit of land area.
Last updated September 2015.
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