What are the main uses of corn?

10/08/2020

By: Liz Froment

As a corn farmer, you probably already know just how vital a crop it is to the economy. Consumers might only think about corn when they see a bushel of fresh ears at their local grocery store or farmers market. But, as an expert in corn farming, you know so many of the products we use in our daily lives contain corn in some form or another.

To get the most out of your yield, you might want to consider ways you can diversify or expand how you're using your corn. Here, you'll find an overview of the main uses of corn, with some ideas on how you can view your crop with an eye for what the market wants.

Corn farming is complex. You have to grow a crop that meets a variety of different needs. But regardless of what type of corn you're growing, you might find a few areas to improve your profit.

Food

Most consumers think of a sweet delicious side dish at their summer barbecue when corn comes to mind. However, the reality is sweet corn—and other types of food-grade corn—make up just a tiny percentage of the entire crop grown in the United States.

Some farmers also look to grow specialty corn, such as white corn, popcorn, and blue corn. While the acreage here is much smaller, farmers can see a premium set on some of these types of corn. White corn, for example, can often sell at a higher rate than food-grade yellow corn, due to high demands for exports in places like Mexico.

Feed

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about a third of the nation's crop is field corn, which is grown for feed for cattle, hogs and poultry. In places like Iowa, and much of the rest of the Midwest, 99 percent of the corn grown is field corn.

Once the harvest is over, you have to figure out what to do with the remaining corn stalks, also known as residue. You want some residue to remain to help build nutrients in the soil, but too much residue can get in the way when it's time to plant the following year.

Many farmers look at this as a potential money-making opportunity. Rather than using equipment to cut or remove the full stalks, rent out your field to a local cattle owner for grazing. The residue provides nutrients to cattle in the fall, and their manure can help fertilize your fields.

Ethanol

Alongside feed, the USDA also cites ethanol production as the other primary use of the corn grown in the United States. Ethanol is a type of alternative biofuel made from corn.

Today, gasoline gets blended with 10, 15 or up to 85 percent of ethanol. Most gas-powered engines on the road can operate with up to 10 percent ethanol (E10). Some vehicles can use what's called Flex-Fuel, which means the engine is designed to use gas blended with 15 percent ethanol (E15) or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85).

Since so much of corn is grown in the Midwest, after all, that's where most of the ethanol production in the country is located. For many farmers, government subsidies in the form of tax breaks, grants and loans help increase corn-farming income.

Think About the Business Side of Things

Corn farming isn't always easy. Everything from the market to the weather can make a huge impact on profit each year. However, with a good handle on the main uses of corn, you can think through how those different uses drive demand. You might find some ways to adjust your current approach to get the most out of your yield.

Liz Froment is a content marketing writer and strategist with a focus towards insurance, real estate and finance.