Here’s a question: When was the last time you ate corn? Think carefully, because we’re not just talking about a veggie side dish.
According to the Corn Refiners Association, nearly 4,000 food items in a typical grocery store contain corn ingredients. And that number doesn’t include all the products—milk, eggs, meat, poultry—that come from corn-fed animals. Or the sweet, whole-kernel corn that comes in cans and freezer bags, and on the cob.
Corn is the most-versatile, most-planted, most-processed crop in South Dakota and the American Heartland. And whole-kernel sweet corn represents only about one percent of the total crop. The other 99 percent is field corn. Roughly half is used as animal feed. And 10 percent is processed for food ingredients.
The things that make a kernel of corn—starch, protein, fiber and oil—are the things we use to make ingredients for yogurt and cereal and fruit juice. Instant coffee and waffles with margarine and syrup. Peanut butter and jelly and bagels. Potato chips and bologna sandwiches with mayo and mustard on wheat bread. Ice cream and cake and malted milkshakes. Donuts with powdered sugar. Chocolate and chewing gum and soft drinks. Beer and whiskey and liqueurs (and aspirin).
It’s safe to say that every time you break bread, corn is on the table. And we think that’s pretty cool.
In the 1970s, American agriculture policy was changed to minimize the price we pay for food by encouraging development of the abundant harvests we have today.
Our food policy has served the American pocketbook well. In 2008, Americans spent just 9.6 percent of our disposable income on food. And that means we’re eating the most economically sensible food in our history.
By global standards, American food is an even better deal. Households in less-developed countries like India spend up to 50 percent of their income on food. Even European countries spend more than twice what U.S. consumers spend.
What does the change in policy and all of this inexpensive food mean to South Dakota corn growers? A 343 percent increase in total harvest and 141 percent increase in yield per acre in just a generation. With a 515 percent gain—from $341 million in 1988 to $2.1 billion in 2008—in the value of our harvest.