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Most of the corn you see around here is fed to farm animals

August 26, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

Harvest is a term usually thought of in the fall of the year but in actuality harvest occurs frequently during the growing season.

We harvest peas and broccoli in the spring, beans and tomatoes from July on and potatoes, peaches and sweet corn this time of year with apples coming in fast. However, in most people's minds when they think of harvest they think of orange pumpkins, shocks of corn and cider enjoyed during the brisk shortening days of autumn.

Well, even this sort of harvest has begun. Corn, known as maize in many parts of the world and Zea mays to those with a scientific bent, is the major crop here in the valley and most of Maryland. To the British and some others, corn refers to any cereal grain which corn is but one of along with wheat, rye, barley and oats. Each of these grains which are members of the grass family and are widely grown in the U.S. and in our neighborhood.

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Corn, however, is king being the most widely grown crop in the Americas (270 million tons annually in the U.S. alone.) Corn was domesticated in Mesoamerica and subsequently spread throughout the American continents. After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th century, corn spread to the rest of the world.

I was recently asked if the corn we see growing here in the Tri-State region is for human or livestock food. The answer to the question of course is yes. Most of the corn you pass by on the roadsides of the area is what many refer to as field corn. A great proportion of this corn is fed to livestock and to be specific around here that would mean dairy cows but if you were on the eastern shore of Maryland it would mean chickens.

This field corn has already begun to disappear as dairy farmers are harvesting it for silage. Corn silage is the whole corn plant chopped and stored anaerobically for feeding throughout the rest of the year. This fermentation process known as ensiling is similar to pickling.

However, in addition to the sweet corn many people eat off the cob or blanche and freeze for winter enjoyment, field corn is also a staple in the lives of humans. One can hardly swing a cat without hitting something that contains corn. The easy ones are corn flakes for breakfast, corn dogs for lunch, corn bread with supper and corn chips as a snack. But corn is more pervasive than that.

Corn syrup is the most widely used sweetener. High fructose corn syrup is the high octane member of the family and is the major ingredient in everything from soda to ketchup. Don't believe me? Start reading labels. Yogurt and Oreos, it's in there; barbeque sauce and pork and beans; yep, it is in there. You can find corn in everything from snacks to pet food.

In addition, corn is used to make bio-fuels like ethanol and fed to every beast we consume from beef to pork to lamb to turkeys.

If you are what you eat, then we are truly children of the corn.

Hopefully, now those tall green stalks bristling in the summer breeze are less of a mystery for you.

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