According to an old farming adage, the Fourth of July isn't just our nation's birthday; it's also a benchmark for corn. If all is going well, it should be "knee-high by the Fourth of July." However, with the amount of rain that we have had lately, many corn fields in Wisconsin look like they won't be meeting that benchmark.
Wisconsin is proud to be one of the top corn producing states in the nation. As “Maizey” and I travel thousands of miles this summer, the vast majority of corn that I see is not meant for human consumption.
A funny memory that I have of corn is during the second grade. One of my peers forgot to bring his assignment for show and tell. He decided to improvise during recess. On the far end of the playground was a cornfield. He picked the corn right off the stalk and brought it into class. Our teacher caught on right away and made him write an apology letter to the neighboring farmer.
My classmate found out the difference between field corn and sweet corn the hard way. Although they might look similar, there is a big difference between the two.
Grain corn is used to feed poultry, pigs, and cows. Grain corn is also used for ethanol, corn oil, cornstarch, and other non-food uses. From spark plugs to tennis shoes, grain corn is in over 4,000 different products. Another product that grain corn can be turned into is corn silage. Corn silage is chopped and fed to cows. Corn silage is an important source of forage in Wisconsin. Corn silage is a consistent feed with high yields and provides high energy to livestock. Wisconsin even leads the nation in corn for silage.
Sweet corn is what you buy at the stores and can be canned, frozen, or fresh off the cob. Less than one percent of the U.S. corn crop is sweet corn for human consumption. Other countries enjoy Wisconsin sweet corn as our state leads the nation in the export of this summertime staple. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are soft and sweet, which makes it an incredibly tasty treat to enjoy at home or even a county fair!
The way that farmers measure corn is through bushels. A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds. A single bushel is capable of producing 18 pounds of livestock feed, 2.8 gallons of ethanol fuel, 14 pounds of corn gluten pellets, 1.8 pounds of corn oil, and 17 pounds of carbon dioxide (used in ice, the beverage industry and water treatment facilities).
I can hardly wait any longer for fresh corn on the cob from the farmers market. In a couple of weeks you’ll be able to find plenty of sweet corn in the grocery stores, farmers markets, road stands, or maybe even in your next CSA box!
Although you might not be able to eat a cob of field corn tonight, remember that corn still makes a positive impact on our lives in many different ways and for Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry.