Corn… did you know?


MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) — Corn is America’s top crop, but only 1 percent is sweet corn. In 2020 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reported a 4 percent increase in corn production. 

The Midwest is still king when it comes to overall corn production, but what happens to the corn that the region produces? A majority of corn found in the Corn Belt is known as “dent” corn, identified by a small indentation at the crown of each kernel. 

Because dent corn has a higher starch content and lower sugar content than sweet corn, it is not served at the dinner table. Instead, Americans consume sweet corn. 

Although representing a very small percentage of America’s total crop production, sweet corn is big business. Florida is the largest producer of sweet corn, representing a $150 million industry. 

“It has to do with the growing season,” said Western Illinois University agriculture professor Mark Bernards. “The earlier you can come to market with a vegetable, typically the higher the premium you have. The Southern United States is able to plant sweet corn in February, so that makes sweet corn available much earlier in the year than if we were to plant it in the Midwest.” 

Then what happens with dent corn? What is the point of producing mass amounts of corn that we can’t eat off the cob? 

“Roughly 40 percent of dent corn is used for livestock feed,” said Bernards, “Another 40 percent is used for ethanol production, which we put in our cars as gasohol. About 15 percent of the U.S. corn crop is exported and smaller percentages are used for human food.” 

Tortillas, corn chips, and cornmeal flour all represent dent corn products. The products you pick up off the shelf just might contain America’s top crop.

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