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Corn's bad reputation undeservedPosted Tuesday, September 8, 2009, at 4:19 PM
Corn. It used to be such a nice crop.
Old songs and movies used to extol it's virtues, "Corn as high as an elephant's eye," etc. The Indians and settlers supposedly shared it on the first Thanksgiving.
People still clamor to get "roasting ears" in July and others spend an enormous amount to munch on popcorn at movie theaters and ballgames.
But field corn, the most widely grown crop in the United States is a raw commodity, used for livestock feed, exports, ethanol, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), starches, alcohols, cereals and seed.
In fact, the latter five items account for just 11 percent of the corn crop. Livestock feed uses up about 57 percent of the corn, while ethanol and exports account for the rest. However, corn, especially that 11 percent used as direct human feed, seems to be getting a lot of bad press lately.
And it is so undeserved. Really all corn has ever done is grow better and stronger through the years. In my 25 years on the farm, corn had become more tolerant of cold, drought, bugs and diseases. The yields have increased dramatically, making it possible to grow more on fewer acres with less labor.
Isn't that a good thing?
As a farmer I think so. After all isn't it a positive step to grow more food with less land, less tillage, less chemicals and pesticides. But if you read some press reports, you'll start to believe maybe it isn't.
Even before the rise in corn prices and spike in ethanol plants, reports were starting to surface that corn was the cause of America's obesity crisis.
Apparently some feel that because high fructose corn syrup and other corn-made products are in a lot of America's convenience and junk foods as a sweetener, instead of sugar, it is the reason we are fat.
The interesting thing is that most of the critics will admit that it doesn't matter whether a soda is sweetened with HFCS or sugar, if you drink too much of it, it will make you fat. Period.
In fact, the American Diabetic Association does not make a distinction between the sweeteners. It also states clearly that sugar consumption is not the reason people become diabetic.
One reason HFCS is blamed by some is because it has been used in the last 30 years -- the same 30 years we've gotten fatter and more diabetic.
Of course the critics forget that is the same 30 years that we have seen a rise in working mothers, one-parent households, microwavable junk food and fast food restaurants. We've also seen a dramatic rise in eating out altogether. Families don't sit down and eat together - and the "vegetables" we consume are all too often French fries.
It is also the same 30 years that almost every household has added air conditioning, cable television and computer games. Do you see children outside playing all summer like we did? I sure don't.
The truth is I'm as guilty as anybody. But I don't blame corn or corn farmers. As the saying goes, "I've seen the enemy and the enemy is us."
It's also odd to me that corn takes the blame, not the soda manufacturers or other processors who started using HFCS in their products because they found it was cheaper. I'm sure they didn't lower their price when they made the switch and they certainly didn't share any of their new profits with the corn farmer.
It's like blaming the hops, barley and the workers at the beer factory for people becoming alcoholics.
There are other corn critics as well, including those who claim using corn for ethanol is a terrible idea -- citing that it is taking food from hungry people, causing nations to starve.
Which is it? Is corn causing obesity or starvation?
The truth is in the 1980s and 1990s we had a surplus of corn and soybeans and very low prices -- but we still had millions of starving people in our world. Now, prices are higher, but we still have a surplus of crops. I'm no expert, but from what I understand it has a lot more to do with world politics and economics, than how many bushels of corn we can grow here in the U.S.
Of course, there is another group that thinks feeding corn to livestock is a waste of resources. They would like us to eat an all-vegetarian diet, doing away with hamburgers, steaks and pork chops altogether.
Another knock on corn has been that the traditional family farm, has been replaced by global corporations.
That is certainly not true in the U.S. According to USDA reports, 98% of the country's farms are still family farms. In Saline County, it seems that more and more young farmers are coming back to the farm.
As I've said before, and will no doubt say again, that is a good thing for our farms, for our county and for our community.
So corn, just keep growing "as high as an elephant's eye" and getting better.
I've got your back.
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