This entry includes establishments primarily engaged in the production of field corn for grain or seed. Establishments primarily engaged in the production of sweet corn are classified under SIC 0161: Vegetables and Melons, and those producing popcorn are classified under SIC 0119: Cash Crops Not Elsewhere Classified.
The United States is the world's leading producer and exporter of corn, growing about 39 percent of the global supply on 78 million acres with China in a distant second place with nearly 21 percent. Corn also far surpasses other U.S. crops in value with nearly $34 billion as compared to soybeans' roughly $19 billion. Although corn is grown in all 50 states, more than 87 percent of it comes from the section of the Midwest known as the Corn Belt, which consists of parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Production of corn was led by Iowa with nearly 2.1 billion bushels followed by Illinois (1.8 billion bushels), Nebraska (1.2 billion bushels), Minnesota (1.1 billion bushels), and Indiana (845 million bushels). In 2006 the U.S. corn crop was estimated at 10.5 billion bushels.
Corn has been the leading U.S. feed grain, accounting for all but 10 percent of the feed grains raised in the country. It has a large variety of industrial and food applications. Although sweet corn was classified elsewhere (as a vegetable rather than a grain), field corn was an ingredient in many processed foods including breakfast cereals, salad dressings, margarine, syrup, soft drinks, and snack items. Corn also had been adapted for use in the manufacturing of ceramics, construction materials, disposable diapers, paper goods, textiles, and health and medical products such as penicillin, antibiotics, and vitamins. It also had been converted into fuel (ethanol) and biodegradable plastic.
The 2002 Census of Agriculture, updated every five years by the U.S. Census, reported an estimated 348,590 corn farms, down from the 1997 total of 450,520 corn farms. The number of acres harvested shrunk from about 71 million to 68 million as did the number of bushels (8.7 billion bushels in 1997 to 8.6 billion bushels in 2002). Corn farms of greater than 500 acres harvested comprised only 10 percent of the total number of corn farms while 75 percent were 249 acres or less.
Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., of Johnston, Iowa, a Du Pont subsidiary, leads the corn industry. Founded in 1926, Pioneer had about 5,000 employees and revenues of $1.8 billion in 2005 sales. Another major player in the industry is Sygenta's Golden Harvest with headquarters in Waterloo, Nebraska, and includes five seed companies—Garwood Seed Co. of Stonington, Illinois; Golden Seed Company of Cordova, Illinois; J.C. Robinson Seeds Inc. of Waterloo, Nebraska; Sommer Bros Seed Co. of Pekin, Illinois; and Clinton, Illinois-based Thorp Seed Company Inc.
Dun & Bradstreet reported in 2006 that the industry's estimated 63,551 establishments posted annual sales of about $8.1 billion with about 110,104 employees. Iowa led with nearly $1.6 billion in sales followed by Illinois with nearly $1.4 billion in sales and Minnesota a distant third with about $769 million in sales.
In terms of harvesting, corn is the largest U.S. crop. Corn is planted in the spring and harvested in the summer and fall. The marketing season for the crop runs from September 1 to August 31.
Most corn is harvested with a combine, which picks the corn from the stalk, removes the husks, and shells and cleans the corn. The shelled corn is dried for storage. Corn also can be harvested with a machine that picks the corn and strips the husk but leaves the kernels on the ear. The ears are then stored in bins that allow the corn to dry.
Harvesting of corn for grain begins when the moisture content is about 28 percent, and harvesting for silage corn begins when the moisture is about 50 percent. A forage harvester chops the corn stalks close to ground level and grinds it into small pieces. The silage is blown into a wagon following behind and is then stored in a silo where fermentation preserves it.
Government price supports for corn began with the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. The legislation granted federal payments to farmers who reduced production of surplus crops. In 1938 Congress enacted a law to set up nonrecourse loans that gave farmers money for their crop so they could hold onto it and sell it when prices went up. The loans also guaranteed the farmers a minimum price for their corn. If the farmers could not sell their crop at a higher price than the government had lent them against the crop, they could simply forfeit the crop to the government. However, the 1996 "Freedom to Farm" legislation promised to end this method of agricultural support. The law called for the gradual reduction of loans over a seven-year period, ending with the termination of government subsidies altogether after 2002. This move, the government hoped, would make farmers more dependent on the market and less on the government. But, in 2002 the federal government enacted new legislation—the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act...