Perfect Storm?

The 2011 corn crop isn’t in the ground yet.  But I’ve never seen the expectations so high, the pressure so great, the experts so nervous.  Farmers, agribusinesses, ethanol producers, Wall Street, the livestock industry, consumers – everyone has a stake in it this year.

U.S corn surpluses are at the lowest level in 15 years, the second smallest in 74 years.  Corn prices are already at record highs.  Droughts in Russia and China have increased exports.  High fuel prices are driving more demand for ethanol.  Food prices are soaring.  Many around the world are hungry.

There are too many interests competing for a finite supply, which could be the perfect storm for disaster if things don’t go well this season.

Speaking of storms, last year Iowa’s corn yield was cut by 9 percent due to flooding.  What’s in store for this year?

From the Des Moines Register:  “If the crop suffers, the consequences could ripple across the globe, from the trading floors of Chicago to Wall Street and Beijing, Seoul and Mexico City, where citizens are becoming more accustomed to the taste of corn-fed beef and pork.”

This season will really be interesting.


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It is that time again…

Well,  spring is here.   I’ve noticed tractors starting to work the fields, getting the land ready for planting.  Most experts predict corn acreage will be up this year although they’re saying there still might not be enough planted to meet soaring demand.  We’ll see.

Do you have any thoughts on what the focus of could be this year?  Any themes or ideas come to mind?  I plan to continue it again this season, but wondering how I can make it different from last year.  More pictures and less commentary?  Any ideas on how/where I could place a corn cam?  Follow the progress on one particular farm?  Have people submit corn pictures from other states — I wonder if I could get a picture from nearly every state.

If you have any ideas, send me an e-mail at:, or leave a comment directly on this website.

I appreciate your interest!


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The fields are blanketed with snow now.  Unlike last winter — when there were a surprising number of fields that remained unpicked once the snow hit — this year, everything appears to be harvested.  We had a very beautiful, dry, lengthy fall, which makes all the difference.

The only corn still visible now is a few stray ears that have been put out in backyards for birds or squirrels.

That’s it for the corn blog for 2010!  I’ve had fun doing it, and I’m sure I’ll resurrect it again in spring, 2011.   In the meantime, I’ll continue to Tweet when there is news to share.  Thanks for following along, I appreciate it!

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Drive down the roads now, and most fields are bare.  The crops are in, the land sits idle, soon the winter winds will blow.

The corn is gone from here, but its journey has just begun.  Trucked to grain bins, loaded on rail cars, barges and ships, it makes its way to markets across the country and around the world.

And that’s when it hits you:  The beautiful green fields, the familiar stalks and tassels that surround us all summer long, isn’t just corn.  It’s commerce.  Corn is our industry, our output, our contribution to global trade.

The rain that falls…the sun that warms…the soil that nourishes…the farmers who plant and tend…the merchants who supply the farmers…the community that supports the farmers and the merchants…the bankers, the scientists, the equipment manufacturers, the chemical companies, the capitalists who invest in it…it’s one big, elaborate, intricate, interconnected partnership of natural and human resources that distributes food and fuel around the globe.

To think, it all starts with a kernel of corn.

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World View

One day last month – a typical day – the USDA estimated that because of heavy rains this year, corn yields would be lower than expected.  That sent corn prices soaring in Chicago, and stock prices of food companies (such as Tyson and Kraft) falling.  But shares in farm equipment companies (such as John Deere) and seed companies (such as Monsanto, DuPont) went higher.  And of course such gyrations affect the investments of millions of people and organizations…

Conventional wisdom is that because corn prices are higher, farmers will plant even more next year.  That means less acreage devoted to beans, wheat and other crops, so those commodity prices rise.  It also means farm ground becomes more valuable, which affects land prices, which affects assessed values, which affects property taxes and then government receipts.  Of course, higher grain prices also mean higher food prices, higher livestock prices, higher ethanol prices – which affects companies from Safeway to McDonald’s to Exxon.

And if affects the decisions of governments in China, Russia and elsewhere:  How much corn will we import?  What price will we pay?

Years ago, GM president Alfred Sloan remarked that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”  I honestly believe the same could be said about corn.  Corn might grow here, but the impact isn’t just an Iowa or a Midwest or even an American thing.  It truly is a world thing.


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Corn “R” Us

Miss the goal, and the soccer ball ends up in the corn.

I was following a truck the other day.  It had an advertisement on the back touting “Real Wisconsin Cheese.”  And I started thinking:   Though Wisconsin is known for cheese, it’s not like you can look out a window there and see it everywhere.  Sure, you can see the cows that contribute the milk, and there are signs that promote cheese and stores and little stands that sell it.  There are a few hundred factories scatted across the state that make it.  And of course you see people wearing cheese hats at football games.

But still, you don’t drive down the highway and look out at the beautiful cheese.

It’s like that in a lot of places – the thing an area is known for isn’t constantly visible, nor easily assessable, nor in proximity to everyone and everything.

West Virginia and Kentucky are known for coal.   But the coal is underground.  You might see miners and mining operations and coal on conveyors and rail cars and trucks.  But to be sure, coal isn’t constantly everywhere you look.

Kids play sports surrounded by corn

Texas is an oil state.  I was driving through there last week and saw the wells.  But I didn’t actually see any oil itself.

Maine is famous for lobsters, but I bet I could visit there and not see one.

You get the point.

But those who live where the corn grows really do live in the corn.  Every direction you look, there it is. Everyone who drives through or visits — they see it too.  Go atop the tallest building in the middle of any city in Iowa, look out, and on the horizon you will see corn.  Attend a baseball or a football or a soccer game in nearly any small town, and the playing fields likely abut the corn.  Pick up a newspaper on any day, and there is probably and article about corn.  Go from one town to the next, and you drive through corn.

It is so familiar, in fact, that most people don’t notice it, much less really think about its significance.  I suppose that happens when something is so common.  Do people who live in the mountains really notice the views each day?  Do those who live on the beach become sensitized to the constant sound of the waves?

Though we may not always think about it, however, corn is THE big deal here.  And what makes the relationship so special is its proximity to everything we do.  We grow up playing near it; thousands of people earn their living from it; much of what we eat is derived from it; many people are buried next to it.

Nighttime sports can seem almost eerie in the corn

They say that sailors can learn to read the ocean; they know its moods and temperament, they can sense things by the way the wind blows and the waves break and the air smells.  It’s like that with cornfields, too.  Live here long enough, and the corn becomes ingrained in your being, your soul, and your spirit.  It becomes, in fact, a part of who you are.

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Corn Art

A good friend is in the process of converting an old grain elevator near downtown Omaha into a rock climbing and outdoor adventure facility.  It’s called Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures, and is slated to open sometime next year.

In the meantime, the elevators are covered with huge murals that depict artwork about agriculture, land use and food.  This project is called Stored Potential: Repurposing the Mid-Century Grain Elevator, and is instigated by Emerging Terrain, an educational non-profit research and design collaborative based in Omaha.  Click here for more info.

It’s totally cool to drive past this on Interstate 80, and even more meaningful (to me) that a couple of the murals depict the beauty and significance of corn.

The barcode mural  (above left) is called Corn as a Commodity by artist Jeremy Reding.  Emerging Terrain explains that his submission “not only expresses the importance of the plant to the state of Nebraska but also its role in the transformation of our farms, livestock, grocery stores and beyond.   By conveying the corncob as a scannable barcode, the simple image attempts to connect viewers to corn as a commodity.”

At left is an image called Corn Cob by artist Mary Day.

It’s a very unique, thought provoking project.  It’s also fun to watch as the climbing endeavor comes to fruition.

When it opens, Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures will be one of the tallest man-made climbing venues in the U.S.

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