Week of August 7, 2022

The Corniest Facts Ever


Globally, corn is among the most essential crops, with well over a billion tons grown annually. Corn currently supplies over 6% of human calories.


Baseball fans might have heard a routine fly ball hit to an outfielder called a “can of corn.” This refers to the old practice of grocery clerks pulling cans off high shelves with long hooks, then catching the falling item in their apron. This term applies to other simple routine actions as well.


The distribution of the US’s largest-acreage crop goes roughly 1/3 to people, beverage, and industrial markets, 1/3 to ethanol production, and 1/3 to livestock.


Corn’s ancestor is a plant called teosinte, which was methodically bred with other plants in southwestern Mexico to get modern corn. However, with just 5-10 kernels per ear and a taste like dried potato, you probably wouldn’t recognize this plant as an ancestor of modern corn.


Corn, squash, and pole beans were often grown together and called the “three sisters” by native American tribes for centuries. These plants they had a remarkably complimentary relationship: Corn stalks supply the support for the beans to wrap around and grow up, the beans convert nitrogen in the air to a form usable to all plants, and squash’s big prickly leaves deter pests, keep the ground moist and provide mulch, for the group.


As a global staple crop, corn grows on every continent on Earth except Antarctica.


In the US, the overwhelming majority of corn comes from the “Corn Belt”, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply and includes parts of the Midwest, Great Plains, and South. Iowa and Illinois tend to lead production annually, with nearly 1/3 of the land in those states dedicated to the crop.