viernes, octubre 26, 2007

The Corn Supremacy

A conversation with a spokesperson for the National Corn Growers Association and his friend from the American Farmland Trust

By Tom Philpott
25 Oct 2007
The productivity of U.S. corn farmers should inspire awe.

According to the U.S. Grains Council, the U.S. produces about 44 percent of the globe's corn crop -- that's more than China, the European Union, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico combined. Iowa alone, which produces a sixth of U.S. corn, produces about as much as the European Union.

Corn field. Photo: iStockphoto
Hey corn spokesfolk, we're all ears.
Photo: iStockphoto
Corn underpins our industrial food system, showing up in a dizzying array of processed foods and serving as the main feed for poultry, dairy, meat, and egg production. Even given all of those uses, there was still enough corn in 2006 to devote a fifth of the harvest to exports, and nearly as much to ethanol.

To create that breathtaking bounty, however, corn makes extraordinary demands on U.S. farm resources. It covers fully a fifth of U.S. cropland, far more than any other crop. It draws more subsidies than any other crop, too. According to the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. government paid corn farmers $51.2 billion between 1995 and 2005 -- more than the outlays for the next two most-subsidized crops combined (cotton and wheat) and nearly three times more than the amount spent on the Conservation Reserve Program over the same period.

Moreover, according to the USDA (see table 2), growing all that corn entails far heavier applications of nitrogen and phosphorus -- both major water polluters -- than any other crop.

To try to get a handle on this prodigious but ravenous crop, I did something last week I've never done before -- I got on the phone with a spokesperson for major corn interests. I talked with Jon Doggett, vice president of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association, which represents 32,000 corn growers and receives support from a roster of agribusinesses including Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto, and John Deere. For the interview, Doggett brought in Ralph Grossi of American Farmland Trust -- a surprising turn of events, since the two groups are commonly associated with opposite sides of many farm issues.

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