Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On Corn

I'm sure that anyone reading this has heard stories about corn prices being driven up by the ethanol industry. I'm sure pretty much anyone understands just how much corn gets used: to feed livestock, cornstarch, corn syrup, etc, etc. Heck, some people even burn corn for heat, according to Wikipedia.

Diclosure: I am not a farmer, but my family does have about a twentieth of an acre under cultivation. Predominately beets.

I just don't understand corn. I purchased some at the local supermarket Sunday. Six cobs for a dollar. As always, I was struck by the waste generated. Between the a priori removal of the husk and the ex post disposal of the cob, no more than a third of the maize is actually edible. And that's by volume, I'm sure it's less by weight. Corn isn't even that filling.

Now, I get that corn is a big product. The world produces hundreds of millions of tons of the stuff. But I just can't fathom how such an inefficient product has become such a staple. I mean, beets, in which I have some specialty, are 100% edible. 95% if you don't like the greens. So what does the market know that I don't?

1) Corn subsidies? I reject this based on them fact that native Americans were growing corn as a staple crop.
2) Land use. Are corn plants easy on the soil? Do they require less nitrogen or phosphorous? Is the way they grow (i.e. straight up) what makes it profitable? This is starting to lead somewhere, I think.

I'll concede I don't know enough about agriculture to answer this definitively. But every time I stare at corn, I can't help but think 'inefficiency'.

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