by Boden Fisher
You grew up in the heartland, drove the country roads, and saw it everywhere; it has been called “King Corn”. The North American crop Zea mays, has a long history in what is now the United States and Mexico. From a wild species now extinct, Zea mays has been selectively bred and domesticated for several thousand years.
In older times, and still in other English-speaking countries, “corn” is a general term used to describe many local cereal crops, not just the long-eared, American native species. But this in of itself shows the prowess of the crop in our land.
Another sign of prominence is the fact that the USDA has declared corn a “native species” by introduction, in the lower 48 states, along with the fact that a whole region of the country, “The Corn Belt” has the crop as a namesake.
Corn has become a huge replacement for sugar, in the form of fructose. Corn is in our fuel. It feeds animals, and it feeds people.
However, some say corn is overprotected, an inefficient use of farm bill subsidies. Nevertheless, while production in the United States has remained high, another country has adapted to growing much of our beloved field crop as well, namely China. As worldwide populations demand more meat, it is probable that corn production will rise as well.
The New World yielded many treasures, and indeed corn has proven to be one of them. In fact, some have gone so far as to build a corn palace. But even if you get your sweet corn from a stand in a vacant lot in a Midwestern town, at least there is only about 2.5 months until Ohio has local sweet corn. Enjoy the Zea mays this year, and remember what it once was (see http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/selection/corn/images/CornProgression.jpg)
Here are some websites discussing the issues mentioned in this article:
New York Times: When a Crop Becomes King http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/19/opinion/when-a-crop-becomes-king.html
USDA Corn Profile https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=zema
This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.