Corn-wonder crop or ecological disaster?

Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance

Corn: the much maligned, biologically remarkable crop has single handedly changed the face of global agriculture. From its beginning as the teosinte plant cultivated about 10,000 years in what is now central Mexico, corn has evolved into a genetically diverse source of food, animal feed, andenergy stock. By- products of corn processing serve as the growth medium for penicillin and a resin source for industrial adhesives-increasingstrength and reducing cost. Even the  bubbles in carbonated drinks are derived from corn.

Why is corn so often at the fore front of controversy in farming practices?

Crop inputs Corn responds to a balanced diet and health care the same as any living thing-it increases its rate of growth.  In the early 1900’s rural boys entered  “corn contests” to increase crop yields  and prizewinners were awarded gold watches and trips to Washington, DC. Jerry Moore of South Carolina raised 238 bushels of corn on a single acre of land in 1910 when the national average was about 32 bushels to the acre. Over the next 100 years national yields skyrocketed. In response to genetic improvements and fertilizer use the current national average is about 145 bushels of corn to the acre.

Water quality While young Jerry Moore was able to reach amazing yields in 1910, today’s farmers balance corns’ ability to respond to fertilizer with water quality protection. Rain can carry soil and fertilizer from corn fields into water ways.  Farmers carefully monitor corn fertilizer needs and protect soil from erosion by planting soil holding crops on bare corn ground for the winter season.  Many farmers no longer plow ground used to grow corn, further decreasing soil run off. Ongoing research assists farmers in developing farming methods to protect soil and water quality.

Obesity The US is experiencing an obesity epidemic.  Some scientists hypothesize that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  consumption has uniquely contributed to the increasing weight of the U.S. population. The truth is that sugar is sugar, no matter the form and we eat too much of it. Based on the currently available evidence, an expert panel of the Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy convened in 2007 concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute to overweight and obesity any differently than do other energy sources. As a nation if we want to address obesity we need to focus on food choices, exercise and portion control. Concern over sugar from corn is a red herring distracting vital public resources from the real causes of US obesity.

GMOs  Genetic engineering has reduced pesticide and herbicide use in corn production. By providing corn with traits to protect itself from pests and allow the use of rapidly degraded herbicides, farmers are able to reduce chemical use in crop production.  Over 3,200 renowned scientists worldwide have signed a declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology and its safety to humans, animals, and the environment. In the US 95% of the corn crop is grown from genetically engineered seed. That means over 2,000,000,000,000 meals have been consumed containing genetically engineered food without a single substantiated ill health effect.  That’s right-2 trillion meals and not a single problem.

US farmers are proud to use the best tools available to produce wholesome, affordable food with minimal impact on soil and water quality. For the past 100 centuries corn has been essential to capture the sun’s energy to provide needed calories for humans and their livestock. Thanks to modern farming practices the efficiency of this amazing crop is greater than ever.