Why I grow corn

Please note this is a rant, I hope it doesn’t detract from the quality I want to bring to this blog, but it’s my thoughts this morning, so I’ll share.

I’m tired of seeing the constant bashing that corn gets in social media or even pop culture today.  I grow corn, and I’d like to try to explain a bit why I do.

You see, each year, I make choices of what I wish to plant.  The freedom is mine, as someone trying to make their living off the land, I tend to be interested in crops that might generate the income I need to raise my family.  I could plant papayas, lilacs, or even green beans, but I don’t.  Unfortunately, the Kansas weather is what it is, and there’s folks around the world that can raise those things much better/more affordably than I can.  We can raise corn here though, because we can (at least most years).

I hear how subsidized corn is..  I wish folks could understand,  looking back on the last three years of financials on our farm, we have received some subsidies, I would love to debate that issue some day,  like most centrally planned government programs, the farm bill that delivers those subsidies leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s not the point of this post..  The point is, I could have grown pretty much whatever crops I wanted the last few years, and my subsidy check from the government would have been EXACTLY the same.  My farm received no subsidies for planting corn instead of another crop.

I hear all the time from the environmental crowd how destructive corn is there.  Well, probably THE most important environmental resource on our farm is the soil.  I’d invite anyone to come visit, esp. after a heavy rain, bring your mud boats, we can walk some fields and I can show you the tremendous soil conservation benefits of corn residue vs. other crops.  Not only does it keep the soil from washing/blowing, but the massive residue provides the building blocks for improving organic matter, a key component of soil health.

Having said all that, let me say this.  I’d love to find another crop to grow.  Preferably one that let us spread the workload out a bit, gave us more to do say in the summer, and help alleviate the stress of trying to do everything in the spring/fall.  I actually hoped wheat could fill that role, unfortunately there’s less and less wheat being planted in northeast Kansas.  If you think that’s because somehow that “massive corn lobby” has swindled a bunch of Kansas farm folk into planting a crop we don’t want to… Uugg, thanks for having so much confidence in us, but please read this post again.

For those that have the perfect “system” of how to change all this, so I can grow papayas, lilacs, green beans, or whatever your wonder crop is, lets have that discussion.. here in the comments, Twitter, Google Buzz, wherever you prefer.  But I’ll tell you my bias going in..   Markets bring excesses, they swing too far at times, but I’m pretty confident this thing called the market does a pretty good job of telling me if and when I should be growing corn.

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21 responses to this post.

  1. Nice rant.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Charles on October 6, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Well said.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Jeff Shaner on October 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Look buddy we don’t care that you raise corn, We all eat it! Just don’t let yer fertilizer runoff and cause algae blooms that kill the fish we like to eat too! Farm on sir.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Mark Lambert on October 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Makes perfect sense to me. Rant away!

    Reply

  5. Hi Darin,
    I really enjoyed reading your perspective here. I’ve always been passionate about food; originally from IL, one of my fondest memories is going to the Glasscock Farm stand to pick up a bag brimming with freshly picked ears of corn. Now I live in SF, and I started writing a blog a few months ago about food and gardening with an “eat local” spin — driven by my desire to support local farmers and gratitude at having access to such great locally-grown produce year-round in the Bay Area. However, since I’ve started writing my blog, I’ve been reading more about the value of eating locally vs. globally, supporting responsible farmers of all kinds, how we can actually feed the world, etc., and though I found Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma interesting (among other media written on the topic), more and more I’m wondering if his thesis is really the right way to think about improving things. (As a result I’m planning to re-frame my blog; it’ll still focus on food but more on homegrown, homemade food and foodways.)

    OK, this is probably more than you bargained for 🙂 but: I found it interesting that you said you wished you could grow something other than corn. If you could remake the world, what do you wish consumers (restaurants, families, etc.) would buy –or what other grand changes would you make — so that you COULD grow other crops?

    And, what’s your take on government subsidies to farms? Necessary evil, critical to farmers’ survival, wish you could do away with them if the market supported different crops, something else?

    Whew! Thanks for any insights you can offer; I’m really interested in learning from you. And if email is easier, you can find it on my blog’s Contact page.

    Reply

    • Stephanie,

      Okay, a few thoughts on your questions: Government subsidies.. It seems pretty big and complicated, it seems completely removing government from ag would drive a lot of small family farm operations off the land, as there is a strong safety net in place there when prices and/or yields are low. Yet, the details of how the programs often work seem to leave a lot to be desired. So I guess we could sum it all up with “necessary evil”

      As far as other crops, I don’t think diversity of American diet is the issue, it’s already quite diverse. It’s the issue of what we can grow profitably. A lot of it is the specialized equipment thats needed to produce most crops, and the fairly random weather we get where it might be too hot, too dry, too wet and all in the same year for many crop options. So when I say I’d love to find a third crop, a pretty big question is the equipment/expertise/labor required, and finding a crop that could thrive in the climate we face.

      Excellent thoughts and questions and I enjoyed reviewing your blog, we’re all just learning in this together I think.

      Reply

  6. A-MEN Darin!

    Reply

  7. Darin,

    Nice post. Well done.

    To add to your thoughts, I’ll offer these:
    Subsidies:
    Oftentimes we hear this: The government subsidizes corn so that it stays cheap so the companies can make farmers grow it and then the companies can buy it cheap and then make us eat fake food. (insert throwing clear sound here.) There are so many things wrong with this criticism. But let’s start with a positive thing…it’s good that people are at least THINKING about this, but they’re not thinking very critically or using all of their grey matter. The basic economics of this criticism are 100% wrong. The “subsidies make corn cheap” thing is way off. The payments that support price (called LDP’s) actually are paid to the farmer when corn gets too cheap. It provides a market floor price, not a market ceiling price. And by the way, the market has been doing a good job of keeping corn prices well above those support rates making LDP’s part of history, at least for now.
    The direct payments Darin mentions are an entirely different story. Many farmers characterize them as “necessary evil” as did Darin, and would gladly give them up if the government stayed out of making farm decisions, regulations, and stipulations. But as is the case in the EU, when government dictates an industry’s practices, inevitably that raises costs of production to such a point that the market can’t cover, thereby necessitating some sort of compensation. Basically, a payment for farming the way that some sort of social dictate has mandated.

    Farmers “forced” to grow corn and certain types of GM corn:
    This? Ludicrous. Never has a black helicopter hovered over our farm, spewing forth men in dark suits and dark sunglasses repelling down ropes, holding guns to my dad’s head making him buy one seed over another. Nor do they ride shotgun in the buddy seat of the tractor to be sure that corn and only corn gets planted. This conspiracy? Not even good enough for late night cable.

    Planting all that corn means we can’t plant food:
    Again…I can understand how this misunderstanding might come about, but lets look at the facts, shall we? Of all the corn planted in this country, less than 1% is sweet corn, or veggie corn as I like to call it. “That proves my point,” insist the detractors! But alas, it proves mine. Even at less than 1% of the corn planted being sweet corn, I see no shortage of canned corn on shelves, frozen corn in freezers, corn on the cob at your summer picnic, etc. And if, let’s say, instead of planting corn on the 400 acres of my family’s farm we plant, I dunno, green beans. Do you have any idea how much green beans that would yield? And where would we take them to market? And does everyone in our well-to-do local community of Bloomington-Normal want to take a couple days off work to can or freeze these green beans to enjoy in the winter months. I’m guessing no. Farmers in this country are growing plenty of fresh veggies as are appropriate, in places that make sense given the growing conditions, market access, infrastructure, etc. There’s a nice profile of a corn farmer that has also made the decision to grow other vegetable crops (because it makes sense given his market and agronomic conditions at this address http://whosyourfarmer.blogspot.com/2010/09/my-family-farm.html

    That’s just a few bits of input from me. But it boils down to this…

    American farmers grow the best corn in the world. And they are the most talented farmers of corn in the world. They are good at it. That’s why they do it. Our systems, technology, knowledge and human capital are the envy of farmers who try to grow corn in other parts of the world.

    Let’s not be ashamed of our success, but instead let’s modestly acknowledge our accomplishments and work harder to do more with the blessings bestowed upon us, whether they be a corn crop or something else. This is America…seize your opportunity and do much with what you’ve been given, whatever that is!

    Reply

  8. Posted by LaVell on October 14, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Nice job Darin!

    Reply

  9. Nice Job Darin. Row cropping is a topic in Ag I am less familiar with compared to other areas and I always love to hear a viewpoint from a crop farmer and learn more about it. I learned something. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

    • Thanks Ryan,

      It’s similar for me to watch what you do and your sharing it through SM, we feed cattle, have fed some in the western feedyards like where your at in the past, as well as toured some of them. But it’s nice to see the first-hand perspective at times.

      Reply

  10. Have you reflected anywhere in this blog upon the burgeoning agroecological movement, organics, environmental issues, sustainability of pesticide based agriculture? I see I can learn from your non-hysterical take on farming.

    My particular pet peeve is the patenting of genetics that drives the consolidation of resources in the developing world.

    I suppose I could search your blog. Thank you for your thoughts,
    Chris Dudley

    Reply

  11. […] and time into.  You could even write about posts that were popular with your readers such as Why I Grow Corn that received a number of comments at Darin’s Ramblings. If the post was interesting earlier […]

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  12. An oldie but a goodie! Nice post Darin. To expand on why we grow corn here in the Corn Belt. I suppose it’s also the Soybean Belt to some extent. Frankly, we’re darn good at it. Statistics show we’re the best in the world in fact. And this is the best land in the world for growing corn.

    I’d liken it to the automotive industry. Italians build the best exotic cars. You won’t find Lamborghini or Ferrari built anywhere else in the world. Germans design and build the sedans that set the benchmark every year for performance luxury sedans. The American Midwest is the Ferrari of corn production. Why shouldn’t half the world’s corn come from here? Gotta keep one eye on South America though. Wouldn’t want them to catch us! A little competition never hurts though.

    Reply

  13. Great rant and great comments! I’m really starting to get to really like this SM side of farming, ranching, and ag in general….

    Thanks Again for Your Words!

    Reply

  14. Great post Darin! Keep up the good work! And props to Tricia’s response too!

    Reply

  15. […] active set of comments.  So I simply shared a short note and a link to a blog post I did on “Why I Grow Corn“.  By this morning 74 people had viewed my blog from that link.  That’s a pretty high […]

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