Source: Mother Jones
A John Deere combine harvests corn. USDA/Wikimedia Commons
Every year, nearly 30 percent of US farmland gets planted in corn, and our farmers produce close to 40 percent of the corn produced on Earth each year.
So why do we grow so much of this one crop—and what do we get for the effort? I’ve been pondering those questions since I began writing about food politics eight years ago. The answers I’ve come up with (see here and here for examples) have not been popular with the loose alliance of firms that provide seeds and agrichemicals to farmers to grow corn and that buy the harvest and turn it into a variety of products. Back in 2010, a corn-industry PR person once lashed out at my conclusions as the “rantings of an elitist with an anti-corn agenda.”
I wonder what my critic, Cathryn Wojcicki, or @CornyCate as she’s known on Twitter, will think of this cold-blooded examination of our corn agriculture from Jonathan Foley, Director, a professor of ecology at University of Minnesota. Foley won’t be easy for the industry to dismiss. He’s the coauthor of a 2012 Nature study finding that yields from industrial-scale farming trump those of organic by 25 percent—an analysis I criticized as narrow and incomplete. So he’s not exactly an “anti-corn elitist” by disposition
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But the analysis quickly turns devastating. Foley distinguishes between corn as a crop, which is highly productive and high-yielding; and corn as the centerpiece of an agriculture system, which is “inefficient at feeding people.”