Archive for November, 2010


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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