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Corn Shortage Has People Questioning its Use

July 17, 2012

A debate on corn is growing across the country, and the question is who should eat what little corn is produced this year – humans or machines?
Numbers released July 11 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show the size of the current corn harvest, and how much of it is projected to be used for for ethanol fuel.

ResourceMedia.org, an organization aiming to shape the public conversation on conservation and public health issues, has found in the last several years nearly 40 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is used to make ethanol. Droughts in some regions of the Corn Belt will cause a smaller national yield, which in turn drives up prices.

Resource Media says some groups are arguing that growing approximately five billion bushels of corn a year for fuel adds to the volatility and shortage of food prices around the world.

Barnes County North Dakota State University Extension Service agent Randy Grueneich said corn grown for ethanol is “a very different corn” than what winds up on the dinner table.

“It’s much taller, and the actually kernels themselves, you’re going to let those go to maturity so they’re going to fill and have a much higher starch, where as sweet corn is harvested when it’s really high in moisture and still in the process of filling out those kernels. The plants themselves, sweet corn itself – mostly because of breeding and genetics – sweet corn itself is much shorter and not nearly as adaptable to harsh conditions or even good conditions when it comes to producing a really high yield.

Grueneich said locally some corn is produced called ‘field corn’ which goes to a plant in Hankinson where it is made into high fructose corn syrup, a main ingredient for many processed foods including sodas and fruit juices.

“There are tons of products made from corn that do end up in food,” he said.

Corn prices have been on the rise in the last four weeks as several regions in the corn belt have declared drought emergencies. Grueneich said extreme stress from the heat and lack of moisture during the plants’ pollination period – both of which are happening now – can severely hinder a plant’s ability to produce corn.

“Once those tassels pop they’re shedding pollen, so that’s a critical time for corn. We won’t know until later on, but certainly our corn has been affected and we would not assume we would have a normal corn yield, it’s certainly going to be less. How much less, we’ll have to wait and see, but heat and dryness are two things that have a big effect on corn yields.”

Darin Anderson, who has a bout 1,500 acres of corn planted in Barnes County with his father, said his crop is “hanging in, but we need a rain pretty soon.” Anderson said Monday about half of his crop has sprouted tassels, and expects every acre to be tasseled by the end of the week. He said his fields are not irrigated and are 100 percent dry land.
“I hope this 30 percent chance of rain on Wednesday comes true,” Anderson said.

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