The Cracker Barrel: That time of year

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Craig Nagel, Columnist

It’s that time of year again.

Corn time.

Time to succumb to temptation and buy a dozen ears of sweet corn from one of the many tailgate entrepreneurs who bedeck the byways of the northland with their pickup trucks and homemade signs, or maybe from your favorite local grower or a nearby farmers market.

While you’re waiting for the golden goodies to cook, you might enjoy munching on some of the following kernels of information regarding America’s favorite field crop, which I have herewith assembled for your pleasure and edification.

Corn is the most valuable crop currently grown in the USA. It’s the world’s most important grain, and along with wheat, rice and potatoes, it ranks as one of the four most important crops on the planet.


Corn covers more than 90 million acres of land in our country, more than any other crop. Last year farmers harvested nearly 400 million metric tons of corn. The U.S. produces roughly half of the world’s total, and of that nearly three-quarters is grown in the Corn Belt, an area composed of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. The top corn-producing state is Iowa.

In recent years the leading use of corn is for biofuels, with some 40% of the crop made into ethanol. Some 36% is fed to hogs, cattle, sheep and poultry. Farmers sell most of the rest of the crop to industries for use in processed food and industrial products.

On average, Americans eat approximately 55 pounds of corn per person every year. Counting corn eaten in the form of meat and meat products from animals raised on corn, corn makes up a larger part of our diet than any other farm crop. Adding up all the different ways corn is used in modern life (including as fuel), each U.S. citizen on average consumes some 1,500 pounds of it annually.

Aside from enjoying it on the cob, we eat corn or corn products in dozens of different forms, including baked goods, baking powder, breakfast foods, ketchup, chewing gum, cooking oil, corn flour, ice cream, icings and candy, jams and jellies, margarine, popcorn, puddings, salad dressing, sausage, shortening, syrup, tortillas, vinegar and yeast.

We make further use of the crop in the shape of other products such as adhesives, antifreeze, antiseptics, ceramics, dyes, ether, explosives, felt, fertilizer, fuel, paints, plastics, safety glass, soaps, solvents, synthetic fibers, varnishes and whiskey. A tiny but committed portion of the population continues to snort tobacco via corncob pipes.

There are six main kinds of corn, each having different types of kernels. Dent corn is the most common variety, and makes up nearly 90 percent of the nation’s annual crop. Sweet corn is grown chiefly for people to eat. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Oregon are the top three sweet corn producing states. Popcorn is one of America’s favorite “fun foods,” and it, too, is grown mainly in the Midwest. Other types of corn include flint corns, flour corn and pod corn.


I thought so. But before you tuck your napkin in your shirt and the butter starts dripping off your chin, you might like to know that sweet corn is a good source of energy, and also contains vitamins A and C. A pound of sweet corn (roughly three ears) contains about 550 calories.


But that doesn’t count the butter.

Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at

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